COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The competitor in Rasheed Sulaimon wouldn’t let him say that there ever was a “good” loss.
The implication being Maryland’s 70-57 dismantling at the hands of a red-hot Wisconsin team Feb. 13 at Xfinity Center could galvanize the previously-second-ranked and tied-for-first-in-the-Big-Ten Terrapins down the stretch.
“I don’t think there’s anything such as a good loss, but it could be an important loss,” said Sulaimon, his 17 points one of few Terrapin bright spots. “I thought we were making strides in the right direction and this game kind of pointed out some things we need to get better on. I think a loss like this, after we watch film, can make us a lot better going forward.”
Sulaimon had four 3-pointers, spotted the Terrapins (22-4, 10-3) to an early lead, and then watched everything crumble in as bad a stretch of basketball as Maryland has played in years. No, really. Maryland hadn’t suffered a home loss in over a calendar year, back to Dec. 3 of 2014, when Virginia won here in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Terrapins ran off 27 straight victories and had never before been bested at home in the Big Ten. They got bested Feb. 13, Wisconsin (16-9, 8-4) winning for the seventh straight time. The big-shot Badgers drilled 12-of-26 3-point attempts, many at the most opportune of times to tame the Terrapins.
“Their execution on offense was terrific,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. “As much as we were double-teaming and trying to get them out of their stuff, they still used 30 seconds every time and made shots.”
That was the story in the second half, after Maryland had dug a 15-point hole and had to scramble after Polar Vortex-cold shooting the first half. The Terrapins went a stretch of ten minutes and 31 seconds without a basket and it’s hard to beat anyone when that happens.
“We just took some bad shots, didn’t share the ball, didn’t find the open man,” said Jake Layman, who had 10 points, one of four Terps in modest double figures. “We’ just weren’t ourselves in the first half.”
Melo Trimble was the hero the last time these two teams met, hitting a cold-blooded three at the buzzer for a 63-60 win in Madison. Feb. 13 he was just cold, 1-of-14 from the field, by far his poorest shooting game of the year. He still had 10 points and six assists and helped keep Maryland within hailing distance until the closing minutes.
“We trust (Trimble) with the ball in his hands,” said Layman. “I think if this game came down to one shot, I think the ball would be in his hands no matter what he was shooting. We told him to just stay confident.”
Diamond Stone, playing against his home-state Badgers, had 10 points and four blocked shots, one punctuated with a salute back toward the Maryland bench. He also was part of a double-technical situation at the end of the first half, scrapping with Wisconsin’s Maryland native, Charlie Thomas from River Hills High in Highland.
Turgeon said he didn’t get a good look at the incident and would review it on film before talking to Stone. Stone, by that point, wasn’t the only frustrated Terrapin.
“It’s the first time I felt our offense affected our defense,” said Turgeon. “It was just one of those nights. We kept trying to get to the foul line the first half, couldn’t get there and the frustration mounted. We lost the game the last 10 minutes of the half. Our effort was good enough the second half. If we could have just put a little more pressure on them, we just couldn’t make enough plays offensively.”
Maryland finished 20-of-50 from the field (40 percent) but that wasn’t nearly good enough with 12 turnovers, a 40-30 rebounding deficit, a 20-4 disadvantage in second chance points and Wisconsin’s tendency to get a big bucket whenever they had to have one.
“They always hit the big shot,” said Layman. “They came to play tonight. VItto Brown played great. They hit big shots when they needed to.”
Badgers Hold Off Terps
Wisconsin, a new-and-improved version over the one Maryland beat Jan. 9, held off several Terrapin charges in the frantic second half. The last one came when Layman hit a big 3-pointer at 4:16 to pull Maryland within 56-48. Brown answered from downtown, though with his own three 29 seconds later. The Terrapins, pressing and chasing the entire second half, would never get that close again.
The Badgers took care of the ball (11 turnovers) and played their pace to the mounting frustration of the Terrapins and another sellout crowd of 17,950.
“It was tough,” said Sulaimon. “They had a great second half and every time we felt like we were coming back, they made another big shot. That can be discouraging at times. I’m proud of the way we fought. Tonight just wasn’t our night.”
The Terrapins fired a 9-3 salvo to open the second half, trying to extricate themselves from that 15-point boondoggle. Trimble started with a drive and ended up hitting one of two free throws. Robert Carter, Jr., fresh off a lot of rest after early foul trouble, got a big defensive rebound then wound up with a thunderous dunk to make it a 12-point game, but Bronson Koenig drilled a 3-pointer to make it 39-24 at 18:33.
Sulaimon hit a three after a Trimble steal and Trimble’s lay-up at 17:49, made it 39-30. But 6-8 Nigel Hayes hit a huge 3-pointer in what had become a troubling trend.
Layman got a three-point play and Jaylen Brantley, in an expanded role (10 minutes, four points, three rebounds) scored on a drive on a third-chance possession to make 42-35, at 13:01. But the 6-8 Brown bounced outside and knocked down another timely triple for Wisconsin.
The Terps kept coming. A Sulaimon steal turned into a Brantley layup. When Stone got a dunk it was 45-39 at 10:41, and Wisconsin took a timeout. Koenig hit a long, tough two, Stone got a dunk from Trimble but then Koenig --what else?-- canned a 3-pointer. When Brown got a stickback at 7:46, the lead was back to 12 at 53-41.
Maryland wouldn’t get closer than eight again. Two-of-10 shooting behind the arc hindered Terrapin hopes while the Badgers banged home 6-of-12 from deep in the half. Koenig hit four of five in the second half, and Brown had two on his way to a game-high 21 points. Koenig had 16, and Hayes had 14, including 4-of-5 shooting from deep.
“Give Wisconsin credit,” said Turgeon of what is easily the biggest win of the Greg Gard Era. “They were dialed in from the beginning.”
Gard replaced legendary Bo Ryan on the sidelines earlier this year, and he seems to have his tweaks to the Wisconsin way up and running. “When we had gotten down early, we had gotten away from what we wanted to do offensively,” he said. “We had gotten a little quick on the trigger in terms of not playing through the post and not executing. But then we were able to got get back to being Wisconsin and touching the post and being unselfish.”
Fatal First Half
Cheese all around. particularly after the Terrapins trailed 36-21 at the half when they absolutely imploded midway through the first 20 minutes. After running off seven straight points to lead 14-7 at 13:32 on a 3-pointer by Sulaimon, the Terrapins went as ice cold as they’ve been all season. Maryland missed seven straight shots at one point and 10 of their last 11 in the half.
“We got out 14-7 and then we kind of lost ourselves,” said Turgeon. “It’s disappointing but it’s a long season. It’s really hard to play well every night. We never quit. We did some things the second half we really don’t practice a lot because we haven’t had to. We pressed and we doubled ball screens, we doubled the post. We just couldn’t make enough shots to get back in.”
How about the 5-11 Brantley on Hayes in a couple of defensive sets? There was a lot of Layman at power forward and a lot of scrambling.
The Badgers closed on a 29-6 first half spree, running off 18 straight points over an 8-minute span. Maryland went8:08 without scoring before Trimble hit two free throws at 5:09 to make it 24-16.
It was another 3:30 before the Terrapins got a field goal, Sulaimon finally nailing another three. Maryland’s half-court offense just disappeared against Wisconsin’s sticky, physical man-to-man defense. Three Hayes 3-pointers, part of 42.9 percent shooting behind the arc with that dreaded Under Armour ball, helped the Badgers open up a 16-point margin that Maryland whittled down a point with 1.8 seconds.
Trimble was stopped on a drive to the basket and in the scramble for the rebound, Thomas and Stone got in a tussle, both drawing technical fouls. Trimble hit his two, but Koenig missed one to close the gap and end a brutally, ugly first half for the Terrapins.
Stone got a flagrant one foul while Thoams got an “unsporting” technical for what he said.
“When you give your heart out in this game, everything we go through from June and now it’s February, emotions flare sometimes,” said Sulaimon, who pulled Stone aside after the game to talk to the freshman. “We had a conversation about it, and he’s going to grow, and he’s going to learn and he’s going to better for it.”
Sulaimon’s nine points was really all Maryland had going. Trimble was 0-of-5 and Layman, 1-of-4. Carter picked up two early fouls and was never much of a factor in 11 minutes after some early success.
Wisconsin led 7-2 early before Stone scored inside, and then Layman blocked a shot to start a fastbreak that ended with a Sulaimon three. Carter got a steal and save to start another break, Layman scoring to put Maryland ahead 9-7, the Terrapins’ first lead, at 15:38
Maryland shot an icy 33.3 percent (7-of-21) for the half, and was only 4-of-7 at the free throw line. For the game, the Terrapins were 12-of-22 at the line, another part of their game that got away from them.
“It told the team the reality is we’re 22-4,” said Turgeon. “We have had a good year. Every team goes through it. This is really the biggest adversity we have had because we lost a home game. We’ll see how we handle it.”
The Terrapins are back in action Feb. 18 at Minnesota, and then host Michigan Feb. 21.
“I just want to get physically tougher and I want to get mentally tougher between now and [Feb. 18],” said Turgeon. “Hopefully by doing that they can play confident. They have responded all year so I expect them to do it again.”