But Sunday's matchup felt entirely different, not just because the teams entered Xfinity Center having lost a combined seven consecutive games. Cosmetically, the first seven minutes could not have been worse, with the teams combining for 12 points.
Later in the half, Maryland's star scorer, Anthony Cowan Jr., bricked an off-balance three-point attempt off the top of the basket. He couldn't be laughed out of the building, because five Badgers air-balled jump shots in the first 15 minutes alone, and another botched a dunk so badly that the ball traveled through the air and landed in the hands of Maryland's bench.
"It wasn't pretty," Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said, before adding: "All the time."
Some of the time, Maryland (16-9, 5-7 Big Ten) showed it is capable of making a run over the next month, although its performance came against a team that looked like a shell of its former national-title-contending self. Wisconsin (10-15, 3-9) has lost five straight and made several blunders down the stretch that spoke to its inexperience.
The Terrapins, meanwhile, snapped a three-game losing streak largely because they overcame ugly starts to both halves, and because Cowan and Huerter combined for 42 of the team's 68 points. They also worked in concert down the stretch — that hadn't necessarily been the case in losses in six of the team's previous eight games — with Huerter hitting consecutive jumpers in the last 87 seconds after Wisconsin had tied the score at 60.
And Cowan, who had suffered through late-game blues throughout January — he was out of defensive position in a last-second loss at Michigan, missed a potential game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds against Indiana and saw a crucial layup get swatted away in the final minute of a home loss to Michigan State — finally experienced a breakthrough of sorts Sunday. He scored 11 of his 23 points in the final 7:46, which included a clutch three-pointer as the shot clock ran low to give his team a one-point lead with just under six minutes remaining.
In the ensuing minutes, Maryland's offense was simplified. Turgeon spread the floor and exclusively called for ball screens for Cowan and Huerter. After facilitating the looks for Huerter in the final two minutes — "They took turns a little bit," Turgeon said — Cowan washed this victory down with four free throws in the final nine seconds.
"Me and Kevin both made plays when we needed to in order for us to win," said Cowan, and the statistics backed up that assertion. Aside from the consistent scoring, the backcourt duo also combined to go 12 for 12 from the line and had seven of the team's 10 assists.
Yet Maryland wouldn't have been in position to win had it not been for graduate transfer center Sean Obi, who saw an expanded role with senior center Michal Cekovsky sitting out with a left heel injury. Obi fouled out in eight minutes in a 75-67 loss to Purdue on Wednesday, and he entered Sunday with just seven rebounds in Big Ten play. Yet he had five of his six boards in the first half and frustrated the offensive game of Wisconsin center Ethan Happ, who finished with 18 points while attempting 15 field goals.
Obi also chipped in a rare three-point play as Maryland went on a 17-2 run to take control of the game; the Terrapins scored on eight of their final nine possessions of the first half, including a steal and score by Cowan in the final seconds to give his team a 33-23 lead at the break.
"That's who I am, making tough plays," Obi said.
It's those kind of revelations that Maryland, which outscored Wisconsin 11-0 in bench points, will need if it is to have any chance of making a run over the next month. The Terrapins will also need to figure out their own psychology coming out of halftime; a week after blowing a 13-point lead in a loss to Michigan State, Maryland's 10-point lead Sunday quickly disintegrated after the Terrapins committed six fouls in the first 3:59 of the second half and allowed Happ to do damage on the interior with 11 points in the first 13 minutes. But Happ didn't score after he hit a free throw to tie the game at 53 with 6:47 left.
"In the end, it was our defense," Turgeon said, although he couldn't deny how skilled Cowan and Huerter were in the final minutes. Cowan bailed out Maryland's offense with two jumpers when the shot clock was running low. Huerter curled off screens and made two straight off-balance jumpers after Wisconsin had tied it at 6o with 2:39 left.
And after Wisconsin botched one last play — it trailed by three in the final seconds, but guard Brad Davison drove the lane and was blocked with two ticks left — Cowan finished it off with two free throws. He eventually found and embraced Huerter. After a hellacious January, February for Maryland at least began like this matchup did Sunday — with an entirely different feeling.