INDIANAPOLIS — Maryland’s trouble with Michigan started months ago, both on the court and between the benches. Tempers have flared. Emotions have boiled over. And the Wolverines have continued to dominate in these matchups this season, perhaps the only area in which the clash has been one-sided.
As Maryland tried to keep pace with Michigan, the top-seeded team in the tournament, chaos ensued on the sideline. During a media timeout with 10:44 remaining, Michigan Coach Juwan Howard yelled toward the Maryland bench. Terps Coach Mark Turgeon walked closer and jawed back.
“He charged at me,” Howard said. “I don’t know how you guys were raised, but how I was raised by my grandmother and also by Chicago — because I was raised by Chicago, I grew up in the South Side. When guys charge you, it’s time to defend yourself.”
Howard retreated a bit toward his bench before returning to midcourt, pushed back by his assistants. He picked up two technical fouls during the exchange and was ejected from the game. Howard said he apologized to his players in the locker room for how he handled the situation.
“I was, I thought, as professional as I could try to be in the moment, standing up for myself, 34 years of doing it the right way, and for Maryland basketball,” said Turgeon, who picked up a technical during the exchange. “So that’s all I did. Just stood up for myself and my program and said, ‘Don’t talk to me.’ And then it escalated.”
The origin of the tension between these two teams is foggy, but it might have started with a late-December interview, when Hunter Dickinson, the Wolverines’ star freshman from the D.C. area, criticized the Terrapins’ staff for not prioritizing him during the recruiting process. Once Dickinson stared down the Maryland coaches after scoring in College Park, the animosity was clear. That game on New Year’s Eve featured four technical fouls — one on each bench, one on Dickinson and one on Turgeon. Dickinson dominated that matchup, and the Terps lost, 84-73.
“This has been going on for three games,” Turgeon said when asked about Friday’s scuffle, adding that he called the Big Ten office about the issue after the two regular season matchups. “... The league was well aware of what’s transpired the first two games, and they’ll handle it from here.”
All three of these games have turned into lopsided losses for the Terps — with Michigan winning 87-63 on Jan. 19. The two teams entered the postseason with vastly different expectations. Michigan is pegged as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, Maryland is happy to be among the teams that are nearly assured a spot in the field. That gap between the programs became obvious as Friday’s game wore on.
After the skirmish between the coaches, the Terps went on a 5-0 run that cut Michigan’s lead to 57-52, but the Wolverines quickly responded with baskets on three straight possessions that put them ahead by 13 with 7:23 left.
“Throughout my years here, Coach Turgeon has always fought for us,” said junior guard Eric Ayala, who scored nine points in the final 11 minutes. “In an incident like today, I guess it’s just two coaches competing. … As a player, it makes it fun for me to see my coach fired up like that. It makes me want to go out there and compete for him.”
After Michigan responded to the Terps’ push, Maryland again trimmed its deficit, this time to 67-61 with five minutes to go. The Wolverines surged again after that, and Maryland could never climb closer.
The game had started to fall apart for the Terps long before those late Michigan bursts. Maryland’s 12-point lead in the first half evaporated amid a strong stretch by the Wolverines, who finished the first half on a 16-2 run. Without Darryl Morsell on the floor, Maryland struggled to defend. After the game, Morsell took the blame for picking up his second foul that sent him to the bench as the game tipped in favor of the Wolverines. Until the final seconds of the first half, the Wolverines hadn’t led since the opening minute, but after 20 minutes, they had taken control.
“They found confidence,” said Morsell, who was recently named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year. “When you get a team like that down, you’ve got to bury them.”
With such a strong start — the Terrapins made 14 of their first 19 field goal attempts and guarded well — Maryland had its best chance to upset the Wolverines, compared with the previous meetings. But as Michigan adjusted, Maryland’s offense began to slump as the game progressed, leading to the familiar outcome.
Ayala led the Terps with 19 points on 7-for-15 shooting, but Maryland shot just 36.7 percent as it was outscored by 11 points during the second half. The Terps needed to generate a solid performance after halftime to have any hope of advancing to the semifinals, but instead they regressed. Morsell, who finished with 16 points, was the only Terps player with a basket during the first nine minutes of the second half.
Senior guard Mike Smith steadied Michigan’s versatile offense with 18 points and a career-high 15 assists. With under four minutes to go, Smith hit a three-pointer to put his team ahead by double digits and ensure Maryland wouldn’t threaten again.
“He was terrific the whole game,” Turgeon said of Smith. “He totally controlled the game.”
Maryland, which lacks depth and a dominant post player, does not match up well with the Wolverines, who have size and a roster filled with contributors. Michigan finished with nine offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points.
Dickinson, the former DeMatha star and the Big Ten’s freshman of the year, only played six minutes in the first half after committing two early fouls and finished the game with just six points. Even in his absence, the Wolverines exploited Maryland’s lack of size in the paint. Austin Davis provided a spark off the bench with six points and six rebounds, including four on the offensive end, in the first half.
The Terrapins’ win Thursday over Michigan State offered optimism after they had finished the regular season with back-to-back disappointing losses. Turgeon called that confidence-boosting win a “shot in the arm” for his players. Friday’s game provided similar bright spots at the start, but eventually it became clear, for the third time this season, that the Terps cannot compete with Michigan.