That’s why No. 4 Maryland lost, 76-69, to the Nittany Lions on Tuesday night. That’s why Maryland is no longer unbeaten.
The Terps (10-1, 1-1 Big Ten) showcased their comeback heroics in their previous game Saturday against visiting Illinois, when they mustered a win from a 15-point deficit in the second half. And they threatened to pull off another dramatic win Tuesday after falling behind by 12. But this time, whenever they generated a response, they also slipped backward, never getting closer than the two-point deficit they faced around the midpoint of the second half. Penn State surged after that, and the turnover-prone Terps never did again.
“We just didn’t hit that next stride,” senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. said.
Maryland missed 10 straight shots at one point late in the game, erasing all hope of a win. A pair of baskets from Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins to end the drought in the final minute offered little consolation, because Penn State had already sealed a victory over this Maryland team that hopes to contend for a conference title. Penn State students filled the court after the final buzzer, swaying to the school’s alma mater not long after they had chanted “Overrated!” at the Terps. They celebrated with the Nittany Lions players, stretching phones above their heads to help them remember this night, when their school knocked off a top-five team.
Playing in their first road game of the season, the Terps accumulated a season-high 20 turnovers. They shot 29.6 percent in the second half. They made just 5 of 16 layups. They know this isn’t a formula for success.
“We can’t make layups, and we can’t make open shots," Coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s been that way for 11 games now. We just were good enough defensively. And we weren’t on the road, too. But the better team tonight won.”
Cowan scored a game-high 16 points, but his last basket came just before Maryland’s late drought, and he couldn’t find a way to lead another comeback like he did against Illinois. Smith had 12 points and 11 rebounds, but he was limited by foul trouble and fouled out in the final seconds.
“It’s frustrating because you know just a little bit more focus would probably get you over the hump,” sophomore guard Eric Ayala said. “We all go through it. We all have little things that we could probably take back.”
The Nittany Lions (8-2, 1-1) had their share of game-altering moments: Sophomore guard Izaiah Brockington hit a three-pointer as the shot clock hit zero when Maryland trailed by only three late in the second half. And their defense stymied the Terps, especially in the paint. Lamar Stevens, the Nittany Lions senior forward who ranks fifth in scoring in program history, finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Senior forward Mike Watkins added 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. Three other Penn State players also scored in double figures.
The Terps have now lost their past four games at Bryce Jordan Center, their longest winless stretch at any Big Ten venue. The meeting here between these teams last season was a particularly gloomy affair for the Terps. The demoralizing 78-61 loss became a low point in the 2018-19 campaign. Beginning with that defeat, the Terps won only two of their final six games of the season. This year, at least, Turgeon said his team responded and competed in the second half.
Maryland did not have its usual tortoise-paced start Tuesday. Ayala scored seven points in the opening four minutes, eventually finishing with 15. Ayala and Smith both hit their first attempts from three-point range. But that blip of positivity faded once the Terps had 11 turnovers through about eight minutes. They trudged through that sloppy stretch, which began around the 16-minute mark, only scoring by way of a Donta Scott three-pointer and a pair of free throws from Ayala. A one-point lead turned into a 12-point deficit.
Turgeon attributed the abundance of turnovers to over-dribbling, sarcastically saying that, “We wanted to lead the country in dribbling tonight.”
After that abysmal first-half stretch, Maryland climbed back within five but quickly slid further behind thanks to a Nittany Lions response that included a buzzer-beating three from sophomore guard Myreon Jones that sent the Terps to the locker room trailing 40-30. Turgeon called that shot "a killer.”
It left the Terps needing to muster a comeback, a scenario equally familiar to them as their slow starts. They played better at times, but they never found a meaningful boost and will head into an eight-day layoff searching for the answers needed to keep this season on track.
“We have a long ways to go as a team,” Turgeon said. “And sometimes when you keep winning, you don’t realize it. Coaches do. But hopefully tonight with this loss, our guys will realize that we have a long ways to go to get where we need to be.”
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