Despite its trouble for much of the game, Maryland had multiple opportunities to deliver a winning basket late. But the Terrapins instead ended their evening at Welsh-Ryan Arena with a field goal drought that spanned the final 4:02. Maryland couldn’t muster defensive stops during that stretch of seven straight misses, and the game turned into a disappointing affair after the Terps had shown significant progress in recent weeks and seemed to solidify their NCAA tournament hopes.
The Wildcats had taken a 56-55 lead with 1:30 remaining, and the Terps still trailed by one when Turgeon called a timeout with 28 seconds remaining. The play was designed to get a shot for either Aaron Wiggins, who had a career night with 26 points, or fellow junior guard Eric Ayala, who struggled against the Wildcats but often leads the Terps in scoring. Ayala got a good look — “the one time we probably executed out of a timeout,” Turgeon said — but he missed his three-point attempt.
After the Terps quickly fouled and Ryan Young made a pair of free throws, Maryland still had a chance to tie when it took possession trailing by three with 13 seconds remaining. But senior guard Darryl Morsell’s three-point attempt with six seconds left was off the mark, and Boo Buie made a pair of free throws to seal the win for the Wildcats.
The Terps relied on superb defense during their winning streak, but Wednesday “we just weren’t locked in,” Wiggins said. Maryland lacked urgency and energy at times, and though they usually fly around the court on the defensive end, the Terps often missed rotations against Northwestern.
“I don’t know what happened,” Turgeon said when asked about the defensive mistakes. “I’m beyond frustrated, guys. Same game plan. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Maryland (15-11, 9-10 Big Ten) leaned heavily on Wiggins’s excellent outing, but Morsell (14 points) was the only other Terrapin to score in double figures. Maryland’s other starters did not play well: Ayala scored only five points on 2-for-12 shooting. Sophomore guard Hakim Hart finished with six points on a 2-for-7 night from the field. Sophomore forward Donta Scott shot 1 for 7, had four points and committed five turnovers. Maryland received zero points from its bench and couldn’t make a shot in those final minutes.
“We had two guys play well,” Turgeon said. “I’m not going to mention names. Rest of us weren’t very good. So frustrating night. We still had a chance to win it. We got back to our inconsistencies when we weren’t a very good team. We were back to that team tonight.”
Wiggins shot 10 for 15 from the field, but that wasn’t enough for the Terps. Maryland committed 15 turnovers, which spoiled an offensive attack that included 42 percent shooting.
Maryland hadn’t led in the entire second half before Wiggins hit a three-pointer with 4:50 to go to put the Terrapins up 51-50. Wiggins added a three-point play less than a minute later to push Maryland’s lead to 54-52, but the Terps managed just one free throw from Morsell the rest of the way.
Northwestern’s Buie tied the score with a layup with 2:59 remaining, and Young’s layup with 1:30 left put the Wildcats ahead for good. Northwestern (8-14, 5-13) had lost 13 consecutive games before it defeated Minnesota on the road this past Thursday, but now the Wildcats have a modest winning streak of their own. Buie, who scored 44 points over his previous two games, led Northwestern with 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting Wednesday, and Chase Audige added 14 points.
“Every time we hit them,” Morsell said, “they had an answer for us.”
Maryland started the game with a dominant stretch on both ends of the floor and jumped out to a 9-0 lead. But then the Terps’ offense stalled thanks to a burst of sloppy play. Maryland committed six turnovers during a five-minute stretch, handing the Wildcats an opportunity to get back into the game. From there, the Terps’ evening gradually unraveled.
Northwestern made 8 of 19 attempts from three-point range during the first half, and Maryland’s early lead quickly faded. The Terps needed much of the second half to climb back from a 28-26 halftime deficit. Once they finally pushed ahead, they couldn’t hold on.
“There’s a lot to be said about the neck up,” Turgeon said, “and we just weren’t worth a flip from the neck up all game.”