Maryland followed a pattern Sunday night against No. 23 Wisconsin similar what they’ve done in their other Big Ten games this season: Struggle to find buckets early, then make up the difference with a frenetic final push.
The Terrapins did overcome a 21-point deficit to the Badgers in the first half, but the end result was the same as their previous conference contests, as Maryland fell short in the final minute, losing 70-69 to Wisconsin.
“I don’t like it when we give up such an early lead like we did tonight,” said Maryland interim coach Danny Manning. “But we’ve shown that we have the wherewithal to continue to find a way to claw, fight and scratch and get back into the ballgame.”
“We didn’t have enough to get over the hump.”
The Terrapins (8-7, 0-4 Big Ten) are winless in conference play and now off to their worst conference start since the 1992-93 season playing in the ACC. Maryland won only two conference games that season.
Eric Ayala didn’t register a point in the first half, but scored 19 in the second half to lead Maryland. A final half-court heave from the guard to win the game missed to the left of the basket.
Terrapins guard Xavier Green provided a boost off the bench, scoring a season high 10 points on four-of-five shooting. He hadn’t scored more than three points all season, and Manning called his night “outstanding.”
Wisconsin (13-2, 4-1) dominated in the first half, shooting 50% from the field in the first half to Maryland’s 32%. The Terps found their touch in the second half, improving to 59% shooting, but the early misses proved too much to overcome.
“We have to do a better job playing defense with our head and our feet,” Manning said. “If you play defense with your head and your feet, it puts your body in the right spot.”
The Badgers were led by forward Tyler Wahl’s career-high 21 points and guard Johnny Davis’ 19. It was the third straight game Maryland had faced one of the top five scorers in the nation. First it was Iowa’s Keegan Murray on Jan. 3, whose 24.7 points-per-game leads Division I. Then it was Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, scoring at a 22.5 point clip, on Thursday. And Davis, ranked fourth nationally in scoring (22.6), had his way with the Terps early.
Wisconsin shot out to a quick 16-6 lead, led by seven points each from Davis and Wahl. The Terps shot 3-for-15 in the first 10 minutes while turning the ball over four times.Maryland also went 5:18 in the middle of the first half without a bucket.
The Terps, however, began to find some answers after being down as much as 21 in the first half. Maryland scored 15 unanswered points in the final 10 minutes of the session, cutting Wisconsin’s lead to six, 29-23. Greene provided a spark off the bench, scoring all five of his first-half points during the run, and Maryland closed the deficit to 33-26 at halftime.
“A lot of teams don’t have a good bench, and I think we have a great, great bench,” Green said. “We give those guys a spark and give them something to come to and keep going and build off of.”
As the second half opened, Ayala finally got involved. The guard hit a three in transition from nearly 30 feet out. He then came back down the court on Maryland’s next possession and hit another, giving the Terps their first lead of the game at 36-35.
“I thought he just made his mind up to go play,” Manning said of Ayala‘s second half. “Not saying he didn’t fell like that at the start of the game, but I don’t know how many halves Eric has played offensively to have a half like he did in the first half. I think a lot of it he just felt like, ‘I have to go make some plays for my team.’”
Those buckets were part of a stretch in which Ayala scored 12 straight Maryland points. After missing his first five shots of the game in the first half, something clicked differently in the second half, as Ayala gained confidence and began to shoot earlier in Maryland’s possessions.
“I think in the first half they forced me to shoot a couple shots I didn’t really want to take…when I went into halftime, I had a feel for where I could get easy shots at,” Ayala said.
Davis started the second half 0-for-5 from the floor and didn’t make his first field goal until more than 12 minutes into the period. The Badgers would soon after go on a 9-2 run to take a five point lead, 62-57.
Maryland would get within three in the final minute, and began to send Wisconsin to the line in order to extend the game. Badger guard Brad Davison, who’s shooting 87.5% on foul shots this season, made his first four in the final minute of play.
But after missing one with 3.9 seconds left and Wisconsin holding on to a one-point lead, Davison intentionally missed his second shot. Donta Scott grabbed the rebound for Maryland, and Ayala scrambled to get away a clean shot, but it didn’t come close. It marked the eighth-straight meeting between these teams that was decided by single digits.
“To play like we did after being down 21 to one of the better teams in the country, I feel like we’re close to turning the corner,” Manning said
• George Gerbo can be reached at email@example.com.
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