COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Down by eight points with under four minutes to play, maybe Maryland had Pittsburgh right where they wanted them.
Of course the Terrapins had already had to make up 17 points to get in that position, and as it turned out, the 2016-17 trademark Terrapin comeback wouldn’t save the day Tuesday at Xfinity Center during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. A bigger, stronger, more experienced Panthers team pounced early and held on for a 73-59 victory that snapped Maryland’s winning streak at seven games.
“We’re competitors and playing basketball is what we love to do,” said team-leader Melo Trimble, who refused to buy into the five-games-in-nine days excuse bandied about after the game. “We just didn’t hit shots.”
The fact that the Panthers (6-1) were hitting them – 66.7 percent shooting in the first half – and then crept back into a foreboding 3-2 zone that maximized their size and big bodies, contributed to Maryland’s woes. It wasn’t until the Terrapins (7-1) buckled down defensively in the second half that they had any chance to come back at all. And then they still couldn’t hit enough shots.
The Terrapins would hit a season-low 34.3 percent (21-of-61) in the game, score a season-low 59 points, and despite those numbers, a defiant Mark Turgeon scoffed at the idea that Maryland will see a lot of zone until they sort out the shooting situation.
“Please zone us, please zone us,” said Turgeon. “We’re going to make shots. We’re going to be great against the zone. I was thrilled when they went zone. We’re going to be good against the zone, we just weren’t good tonight.”
Pittsburgh used a 25-4 run in the first half to take charge, leading by 21 at the half, as Maryland let it’s poor shooting and offensive rough spots leak over into their defense. “They kind of punched us in the mouth in the first half and we didn’t react very well to it,” said Turgeon. “We let our offense affect our defense in the first half.”
Unfortunately the Terrapins picked up right where they left off after the first half, coming out after the intermission to miss six of their first seven shots and commit two turnovers. When 6-9 inside-outside threat Michael Young hit two free throws at 15:46, the Panthers had their biggest lead at 51-26.
Young would finish with 25 points and nine rebounds. Meanwhile Jamel Artis, the Panthers’ 6-7 point guard who played at Baltimore’s Dunbar High as a freshman and sophomore before beginning a prep school odyssey, had 22 points and six rebounds.
Trimble had 13 points, six rebounds and five assists in 35 minutes, the first time this season he had played more than 30 minutes and had less than 18 points. Anthony Cowan added 11 points and Michal Cekovsky came off the bench to score 10. Justin Jackson had eight points, but none after the first four minutes of the game.
“It was kind of tough,” said Damonte Dodd. “Being a shooter and you don’t see your shots go in can mess up your head a little bit. (Pittsburgh) got in transition and got to the rim. They have really big guards so that was tough.”
As Pittsburgh committed completely to the 3-2 zone in the second half, Maryland began slowly chipping away, mostly trading 3-pointers for twos. Kevin Huerter’s three-pointer at 11:47 cut the deficit to 54-35. Cowan hit one at 10:50 and it was 56-38. When Dion Wiley drilled one from the baseline at 8:30, Maryland had shaved 10 points off the lead, down to 60-45.
The Panthers were leaving the door open, shooting just five-of-22 over the first 14 minutes of the second half. Trimble’s three at 7:14, brought Maryland within 62-48, and Huerter got one at 5:21to make it 63-51. Cekovsky hit two free throws to make it a 10-point game, and then Cowan scored on a drive to make it 63-55 with 3:33 remaining.
Cowan missed the front end of a one-and-one that could have brought Maryland within six with three minutes to play. The Panthers’ Chris Jones snuck in and stole an offensive rebound on the next possession, reeling Pittsburgh able to milk more clock. Huerter forced a tie-up, but it was Pittsburgh’s possession.
All the things that had gone right for the Terrapins in those six come-from-behind victories suddenly eluded them.
“We had some miscommunication on defense about doubling Young or Artis, and they hit some wide-open threes,” said Trimble. “They hit a lot of tough shots and got some boards, all things we’ll get better at.”
Maryland shot a season high 36 3-point field goals and connected on just 10, maybe seduced by some early success behind the arc. Their lack of offensive rhythm fueled Pittsburgh’s first-half blitz. The Terrapins shot a season low 12 free throws and by going zone in the second half, the Panthers kept Trimble and his teammates off the line. Pittsburgh turned 14 Terrapin turnovers into 18 points.
“This is just a bump in the road, and we just have to get better,” said Dodd, who had seven rebounds and two points.
Young hit six free throws the last two minutes and added a dunk as Pittsburgh weathered the Maryland storm despite the vocal support of some 17,144 in Xfinity who finally got to yell as the Terrapins rallied late. The Panthers were 18-of-23 at the line (9-of-10 by Young).
“They ran zone and I felt they really wanted to keep me out of the paint,” said Trimble. “Whenever I drove there were two on me and I couldn’t get to the spots I wanted to.”
Maryland was looking to go 8-0 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Instead, Turgeon is giving his tired team Wednesday off to refocus. “We’re going to take the day off,” he said. “I told them they can’t watch film. They can’t come by. They can’t shoot. They just need to get away from it. It’s been a lot for this team already.”
The Terrapins’ next game is Saturday, a 9 p.m., tip-off against Oklahoma State.
Maryland found itself in its biggest hole of the season, falling behind 45-21 by halftime. The Terrapins came out hot early but tailed off to shoot just 34.6 percent (9-of-26), and just plain had trouble putting the ball in the basket late in the half.
The Terrapins tallied just eight points over the final 12:23 of the first half. Over that same span, the Panthers – on their way to 66.7 percent shooting (18-of-27) – scored 30 and took command of the game.
The Terrapins had hit five of their first six shots, including three of four from behind the arc, to lead 13-7 at 15:31 on Jackson’s jumper. Their last lead came at 12:24 when Jared Nickens hit a corner three to put them up 16-15. From there, though, it was all Pittsburgh. Young hit a 15-footer at 12:00 to start an 8-0 run. It was 23-16 at 8:58 when Justice Kithcart scored on a drive.
Cowan ended a scoring drought of four minutes and 28 seconds on a drive at 7:46, but behind Artis, who had 15 points in the first half, the Panthers never let up. Ten Terrapin turnovers produced 16 Pittsburgh points and the Panthers had a 20-10 edge in points in the paint.
Trimble hit a drive – in which he faked his defender so hard, the Panther fell to the floor – and then added two free throws next time down but that just cut a 20-point lead to 40-24. Artis hit another three as Pitt was 5-of-10 behind the arc, and the Panthers closed on a 5-0 run.
Maryland had opened the game wit a 6-0 salvo. Jackson hit a baseline three to open the scoring and Trimble hit another one to make it 6-0. The Panthers roared back and took a 7-6 lead at 17:19, when Artis got a steal and hit a short jumper.
Maryland’s shooting woes were magnified by tough nights by Trimble (4-of-13) and Cowan (4-of-11). Nickens was 1-of-7 from the field, and is now 5-of-35 on the year (.142). Jackson, after that fast start, finished 3-of-8. Huerter was 2-of-9, and Jaylen Brantley 0-of-3. Huerter had six points and nine rebounds, his fourth straight game with 5-or-more.
“The fact is we didn’t execute against the zone the way we practiced (Monday) and we didn’t run back on defense the way we needed,” said Turgeon. “If we could’ve done that in the first half and kept it around 10 or 12, we would’ve had a chance.”