EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Maryland men’s basketball team had relied on its defense to climb within reach of a win at Michigan State. It helped the Terrapins weather a terrible start and dreadful three-point shooting. But during a late slump, that defensive prowess waned, and the Terps couldn’t generate enough offense to counter. Their hopes of completing an impressive comeback faded in the final minutes, and their 63-58 loss Tuesday night at Breslin Center ended a four-game winning streak.
The Terps had a four-point lead with 9:15 remaining, but then they failed to contain Michigan State’s next offensive burst. The Spartans hit three shots from beyond the arc during that stretch, pushing the Terps (16-8, 7-6 Big Ten) back into a deficit that would have required late heroics to overcome. Over a span of about six minutes, which Coach Kevin Willard said defined the game, the Spartans outscored Maryland 15-4.
The Terps gave Michigan State “a couple of easy shots they made,” Willard said. The Spartans’ physicality limited Maryland’s ability to drive to the rim, which is how the Terps found success earlier. And down the stretch, Maryland at times played without forward Julian Reese, who had committed four fouls.
“I thought they really started bodying us on drives, bumping us on drives,” Willard said. “I thought we got two good looks at the rim, and we didn’t get foul calls.”
Maryland trailed by three when Willard called a timeout with 33 seconds to go. Michigan State fouled Reese, and the sophomore hit just one free throw. The Spartans had to call a timeout as they navigated Maryland’s press, then needed another to bail them out of a five-second violation when they couldn’t get the ball in bounds. Finally, Malik Hall got it in, the Terps had to foul, and A.J. Hoggard made a pair of free throws to give Michigan State (15-9, 7-6) a four-point margin that effectively ended the game.
Maryland overcame Michigan State’s 15-0 start to tie the score, and eventually take the lead, in the second half. But Maryland had to battle back again late. After that six-minute stretch allowed the Spartans to lead by seven with 2:48 to go, Jahmir Young and Hakim Hart scored on back-to-back possessions to ensure the Terps would have a chance. But then Young, who led the Terps with 17 points, air-balled a three-pointer that could have tied the score.
After facing a 31-22 deficit at halftime, Maryland climbed back into the game with stifling defense and by attacking the rim and drawing fouls. Willard said he thought his team had more offensive urgency after starting the game “lackadaisical.” The Terps turned in a 14-0 run that turned a 12-point deficit into a two-point lead with 12:37 left.
“We were able to get out in transition, get a couple easy ones, and that really got us momentum,” Young said.
But Maryland had several costly lapses. The Terps let Joey Hauser score 20 points to pace the Spartans, and he made 3 of 5 attempts from three-point range, including one as Michigan State took control down the stretch. Tyson Walker (17 points) and Jaden Akins also hit shots from deep in the final nine minutes.
“I thought our defensive effort was pretty good all night,” Willard said. “We just did some stupid things. We left Hauser, who you can’t leave [open], really three times. All three of his threes were just kind of blown assignments.”
Here’s what else to know about Maryland’s loss:
A nightmare start
Michigan State pounced on Maryland’s early trouble to quickly seize a double-digit lead. The Spartans made six of their first seven shots en route to their 15-0 edge. Maryland missed its first six field goal attempts, including three from beyond the arc, and committed four fouls in the first four minutes.
Willard blamed himself for the bad start and said Maryland practiced “terribly” Monday. That “translated to today,” Young said.
After the Spartans’ opening run, Maryland held them scoreless for 5½ minutes, but the Terps couldn’t get into a consistent rhythm.
Poor starts have hurt Maryland on the road in conference play. The Terps showed significant improvement in a blowout win Saturday at last-place Minnesota, but when facing a tougher opponent, Maryland regressed to a performance that resembled its previous trouble.
“I feel our team can compete with anybody and we’re going to find our way back in any game,” Young said. “We just can’t put ourselves in a hole like that and expect to win.”
Maryland entered this game with the second-worst three-point shooting (30.9 percent) in the Big Ten, while Michigan State had the second-best three-point defense (30.1 percent). The Terps missed their first five attempts and struggled for the entire first half, finishing 2 for 13.
Maryland has had success at times by more consistently attacking the basket, and that’s how the Terps climbed back against the Spartans. But they never found their stroke from the perimeter: They finished an abysmal 3 for 22 (13.6 percent), and Willard mentioned several bad shots his team took early in the shot clock.
“I thought [Michigan State] did a really good job of doubling the post,” he said. “I thought we got some good looks [from three].”
Maryland had climbed the Big Ten standings with its four-game winning streak, and Tuesday’s game was a missed opportunity to earn a marquee victory on the road. (The Terps are now 1-6 in conference road games.) The Big Ten has a congested middle of the pack, and Maryland needs to finish strong to clinch a favorable seed in the conference tournament.
A win Tuesday could have significantly improved Maryland’s NCAA tournament résumé, but this loss won’t push the Terps out of the projected field. Maryland has plenty of chances left to grab a few more wins that will ensure a bid. The Terps play four of their next five at home, with the only road contest at Nebraska (11-13, 4-9), a team Maryland recently handled with ease at home.