WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mark Turgeon was furious, raucously confronting a referee after Melo Trimble got popped in the mouth on a tenacious drive to the basket.
Toughness was absent for the majority of Friday night’s Big Ten quarterfinal against Northwestern at the Verizon Center, and when Maryland’s floor general attempted to deliver the spark they desperately needed, down five with under five minutes to go, it didn’t tilt their way. Instead of Trimble going to the line and potentially making it a one possession game, the shot attempt got rejected to half court, and soon after, conference title hopes in their backyard were dashed for good.
Plagued by long scoring droughts and the inability to deliver willpower on the big stage, Northwestern upended Maryland, 72-64, advancing to the conference semifinals tomorrow afternoon against Wisconsin.
“I thought Northwestern was the better team, I thought they were tougher than we were,” Turgeon said. “We didn’t play with the toughness we needed to play with. … Didn’t run our offense with the toughness we needed.”
It’s Maryland’s sixth loss in 10 games and their fourth in the last six. Everything appeared upbeat when Anthony Cowan (13 points, five rebounds) knocked down a 3-pointer in the corner and when Trimble cut through the teeth of the Northwestern zone to push the Terrapins (24-8) lead to 42-34 and 44-34 with under 17 minutes to go.
But for the next nine minutes, they only managed one bucket, yielding to a 20-2 Northwestern run that propelled the Wildcats ahead for good, 54-49, with seven minutes left.
“They were just physical,” Turgeon said. “They were sitting on a lot of things that we do. But we allowed them to do it. They pushed us out a little bit further than what we’re accustomed to. We just weren’t cutting hard enough, trying to score out of what we were doing. We were just kind of going through the motions a little bit. … I mean, just couldn’t find any consistency with our offense. Of course, we had that big drought. That was really the game.”
Maryland jumped out to an early 10-5 lead four minutes into regulation, featuring a Trimble three-point play and deep Huerter 3. Soon after the Terrapins built a six-point lead eight minutes into the first half, Northwestern stormed off their first of two momentous stretches of the night, countering with a 20-4 run, making 8 of 9 nine shots to maintain a 28-18 lead with under nine minutes left in the first half.
The Terrapins whittled away, and eventually knotted it at 32-all after an NBA-range 3 from Huerter (19 points, four rebounds, four assists) and layup from Justin Jackson (two points, three rebounds) off a Huerter dump pass underneath the basket.
L.G. Gill gave Maryland a 36-34 halftime edge when he connected on a turnaround stepback jumper to beat the first half buzzer.
Maryland opened the second half on an 8-0 run triggered by a Huerter layup. That’s when they opened up the 10-point cushion before faltering down the stretch, managing only one layup from Huerter the next nine minutes. After the cold spell halted with a Cowan 3, the Terrapins still trailed, 54-49.
“They just took us out of our offense,” Trimble said. “We wasn’t able to execute the way we executed at Northwestern.”
Two weeks ago, Maryland traveled to Northwestern and walked away with a 74-64 victory. Trimble scored a career-high 32 points and they capped the Wildcats to 39 percent shooting. On Friday, Northwestern cashed in off Maryland miscues, scoring 25 points off 14 Terrapin turnovers while shooting close to 60 percent in the second half compared to Maryland’s 41 percent mark.
“I think we get comfortable with the lead,” Trimble said. “It’s something that hasn’t worked well, when we get too comfortable, try to slow down. We normally play fast, try to run the offense well. We didn’t do that today. … I feel like we need to run the offense the way we’re capable of running.”
Maryland did draw to within 56-53 when Trimble finished a layup at the rim, but they couldn’t produce enough after that. Northwestern ensued with an 8-1 run to maintain a 64-54 lead with under three minutes to go.
Between Cowan and Trimble, Maryland’s primary ball-handers, 11 turnovers were committed. Northwestern also outrebounded Maryland, 32-24, marking the fourth time in the last six games the Terrapins lost the battle on the glass.
“We just got to play better,” Turgeon said. “We just got to play better and handle the stage better.”
After its one-and-done ousting in the conference tournament, Maryland will now turn its attention, in attempt to reset, to next week’s NCAA tournament. The selection show is on Sunday night, with most projections predicting Maryland to land a No. 7, 8 or even 9 seed.
“We are who we here,” Turgeon said. “We’re better than we played. We’re 24-8. We were picked 10th. I love coaching this team. Tonight we weren’t tougher. When we start practice on Monday, it’s going to say practice plan No. 1. We’re starting a new season, a fresh attitude. And see if we can play well in the NCAA tournament.”