LINCOLN, Neb. — Maryland guard Kevin Huerter had experienced this so many times this season, but that didn’t leave him looking any less devastated after Tuesday night’s 70-66 loss to Nebraska. The Terrapins’ seventh straight road loss followed a similar script, with Maryland clawing back from a slow start to the second half, overcoming heavy foul trouble and its own limitations to position itself for a potential win in the final minutes. It has been played on loop. But Tuesday’s game finished like so many of those previous losses had — with Maryland unable to get critical stops down the stretch and muster a clutch offensive set in the last minute.
Huerter still had a chance when he went to the free throw line with two seconds remaining. His team trailed by three, and he had two shots. He needed to connect on the first and miss the second to give the Terrapins a chance at a potential offensive rebound and a game-tying basket. Only part of that sequence happened. He made the first and missed the second, and after Nebraska corralled the rebound, Huerter was forced to commit his fifth and final foul. He staggered back to the bench as Maryland lost its eighth game by six points or fewer. He looked to be in a haze as he walked to Maryland’s bus afterward, when his coach and teammates did their best to articulate the frustration.
“We keep competing out here and losing by three or four,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said.
“We’re just tired of it,” freshman forward Bruno Fernando said.
“It’s like we can’t get away from it,” said sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who finished with seven points and seven assists on a night when he was upstaged by his former teammate at St. John’s College High, James Palmer Jr., who finished with 26 points and five assists. That performance was bolstered by the foul trouble of two of Maryland’s best defenders, Huerter and freshman Darryl Morsell, both of whom had picked up their fourth fouls with more than seven minutes still remaining.
But that Turgeon had to bench both of those players for long stretches was far from the only issue. Maryland collectively struggled again on the defensive end early in the second half, surrendering a 9-0 run that gave Nebraska a lead it would never relinquish.
And the final minute of the game encapsulated a season’s worth of issues. After clawing back from a seven-point deficit — mostly on the back of Fernando, who scored nine points in the final 6:43 alone — Maryland trailed by just one point and retained possession after Fernando came up with a block with 1:16 left. Turgeon called a timeout to draw up a play. He wanted a back-door feed to Huerter. Nebraska closed it off. The ball eventually swung to Cowan, who looked for Fernando in the post. That, too, wasn’t there. So Cowan pulled up for three and had his shot blocked by Nebraska’s Glynn Watson Jr.
Afterward, Turgeon was asked what he wanted out of that possession:
“Not that, obviously,” he said.
On the next possession, Watson missed his own three-pointer but Nebraska came up with an offensive rebound that led to two made free throws by forward Isaiah Roby. In a game where the stats were identical in so many major categories — Maryland shot 48.3 percent, Nebraska hit 45.5 percent; the Huskers had 10 turnovers, the Terrapins had nine — that play was symbolic of the difference. Nebraska shot 10 more free throws (making 13 of 19) and had four more rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end.
“We’ve been working so hard,” Fernando said. “Every single game we’ve been fighting and giving our best, and we’re just coming up short.”
Maryland’s 32-30 halftime lead marked the first time since Jan. 15 it had held a lead on the road — it blew a 10-point lead to Michigan that night — and the Terrapins’ body language looked markedly different as they walked back to the locker room. This was only a two-point advantage, but it still felt different than halftime of the previous three road losses, when Maryland had trailed by a combined 20 points at the break.
That optimism immediately waned early in the second half, when Huerter picked up his third foul after just 47 seconds.
Maryland pulled within four on a finish by Fernando with 6:43 left, but the Terrapins’ defense continued to struggle closing out on Nebraska’s shooters down the stretch. Palmer hit a three-pointer to push the lead to seven, and after Fernando answered with another finish, Palmer responded with another jumper. Then came the fateful final minutes, when so many series seemed familiar.
“I thought we were going to get over the hump tonight,” Turgeon said. “We had the ball with 40 seconds to go, down one. We just couldn’t get a shot.”
Huerter (12 points) cut the lead back to one with a layup with 11 seconds left, and Nebraska was able to burn five seconds before Watson hit two more free throws to push the lead back to three. Huerter brought the ball up and was fouled near half-court with two seconds left. His intentions were clear. They didn’t work out. The locker room fell into a familiar silence afterward.
“Like it is after every loss. It’s quiet. Nobody wants to talk,” Cowan said. “All we can do is move on.”