MADISON, Wis. — Maryland has been a second-half team all season, but it devolved into something else entirely in a 71-60 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon. With a share of first place in the Big Ten on the line, the unraveling began with just under 10 minutes to play, with Terrapins Coach Mark Turgeon being restrained by his players after picking up a technical foul.
Turgeon had screamed at the officials all afternoon in a slugfest that featured 58 fouls between the two teams, but perhaps his most controversial decision of the season came shortly after one that went his way. With the Terrapins trailing by eight with just over six minutes remaining, junior guard Melo Trimble went to the line for a one-and-one free throw, but he short-armed the attempt and missed. After Wisconsin pushed the lead to 12 over the next two possessions, Turgeon threw in the towel for Trimble, pulling him for the final 4:32.
The move was designed to preserve the junior star — who scored 27 points in 31 minutes Sunday — for the home stretch of the regular season. But the decision also represented a bow to Wisconsin’s total command.
“He was tired. He was carrying us. He missed two free throws that he never misses,” Turgeon said. “He was tired. If we would’ve made a little run, I would’ve put him back in. But we have four games in 10 days. Wisconsin was dominating the game.”
“Coach took me out. I thought I was going to get a breather, but I winded up not going in,” Trimble said. “The game was pretty much pushed out to the point where there was no point for me to go back in.”
Maryland (22-5, 10-4 Big Ten) had arrived here with a chance to join Purdue atop the league standings with a win, but instead Wisconsin (22-5 11-3) moved into that place after rallying from a six-point halftime deficit. The Badgers received 21 points from senior forward Nigel Hayes and 20 from sophomore center Ethan Happ, both of whom helped bludgeon the Terrapins on a day when Wisconsin won the rebounding battle 44-27. That included an 18-5 advantage on the offensive boards, which led to 19 points and a string of demoralizing plays for Maryland’s defense in the second half.
“We couldn’t get a stop. When we did get a stop, they got an offensive rebound, and we fouled. We just couldn’t get a stop,” said Maryland freshman forward Kevin Huerter, who was pulled for the final 4:28 and finished with six points.
The issues didn’t end there. The Terrapins were mired in foul trouble all afternoon — they shot 14 fewer free throws than Wisconsin — and their offense slogged through a performance that included 34.8 percent shooting in the second half and 13 total turnovers.
The convoluted and sometimes grotesque brand of basketball played in the Big Ten this season seemed to manifest itself in both teams early Sunday. Shots in the paint were at a premium within the first seven minutes for Maryland, whose first five field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. The Terrapins’ first attempt at the rim — a hard Trimble drive — was emphatically blocked by Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig, who had sat out the Badgers’ loss to Michigan on Thursday night with a leg strain and didn’t start Sunday.
After that block, it only got uglier. Within the first 17 minutes, the teams combined for 15 turnovers (10 by Maryland), 20 fouls and 11 missed free throws. Trimble, buoyed by scoring a career-high 32 points in a win over Northwestern on Wednesday in Evanston, Ill., found his rhythm late in the first half after hitting two consecutive three-pointers 38 seconds apart to give his team a 33-27 halftime lead. The junior guard scored 15 points in the first half alone.
But Wisconsin’s offense and the Kohl Center both came alive to start the second half. The Badgers pieced together a 15-3 run, keyed by five consecutive points from Koenig, who gave his team a 38-36 lead with a pull-up jumper. Wisconsin started to pull away, forcing Maryland into a scoring drought that lasted nearly three minutes at one point.
A doomed sequence came after senior center Damonte Dodd missed a dunk off a nice feed from Trimble. Maryland’s frontcourt broke down on the ensuing possession, allowing Hayes to lob a backdoor pass to a wide-open Happ for a slam that made it 46-38. Maryland whittled the lead back to three, thanks to a Trimble three-pointer and a dunk by junior center Michal Cekovsky (10 points), but Wisconsin pounced after Turgeon picked up a technical foul with 9:31 remaining.
Trimble, who had celebrated one of the best moments of his career in this arena with a game-winning three-pointer last season, kept Maryland within striking distance. He scored seven straight for his team to pull the Terrapins within 56-52 with 7:21 remaining, but Wisconsin responded by deploying a small lineup that pieced together an 8-0 run. Trimble’s two missed one-and-one free throws were wedged into that run, and Turgeon eventually decided to pull the plug on his star before the final media timeout.
A few seconds before that timeout, Maryland received another blow: Cekovsky rolled his ankle and hit the floor hard. He eventually hobbled off on his own power to the bench, joining Trimble and Huerter, which served as the lasting image of a troubling day.
“They were just the more aggressive team,” Trimble said. “And they played really hard on the offensive end and they executed, and we didn’t.”