The first game against the Michigan State Spartans was a turning point in the Maryland Terrapins’ season.
Before the Terps made the trip to East Lansing, Michigan, to play the then No. 1-ranked Spartans earlier this month, Maryland was riding a seven-game win streak and had just wrestled a win away from Penn State just two days prior.
Now, after Michigan State handed the Terps a season-high 30-point loss, they are losers of three of their last five games and desperately groping for any hope of building an NCAA Tournament-worthyresume.
Any chance Maryland has of playing in March likely comes with the caveat of winning out the rest of the season. It’s a daunting task, especially when considering three of those nine games, starting with hosting Michigan State Sunday afternoon, will be against Top 25 teams.
The Spartans (19-3, 7-2) haven’t changed much in the past month. After its 91-61 drubbing of Maryland on Jan. 4, Michigan State lost its following game to Ohio State 80-64 and later lost to Michigan two games later. Its losses to the Buckeyes and Wolverines caused the team to slide from No. 1 down to No. 9.
Putting aside their recent slip-ups, the Spartans are still one of the most well-rounded teams in the country. Their offense, led by sophomore guard Miles Bridges, scores nearly 85 points per game, and at an average of nearly 21 assists (No. 1) per game, they share the basketball better than any other team.
On the other hand, Maryland (15-7, 4-5) has regressed significantly since its previous meeting with the Spartans. Most of the team’s struggles come from a depleted roster that has seen injuries, some of which were season-ending, and illness. Maryland has blown two late-game leads — a one-point lead against Michigan with three seconds left to play and a five-point lead against Indiana — and dropped back-to-back games for the second time this season.
The Terps took another blow to their already thin roster against the Hoosiers, as freshman Bruno Fernando left the game in the second half with a sprained ankle.
Fernando’s absence will make an upset against the Spartans even more difficult. Aside from being one of Maryland’s best defensive players, Fernando has also been an emotional lift for the team. Both aspects of Fernando’s game will be missed if he is unable to play.
But regardless of injuries, the outcome of the game will depend on how sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan performs. Cowan, who leads the team in points (16.4) and minutes (36.1), has proven he can carry his team out of a shooting slump if he needs to do so. He scored 26 points against the Spartans in the last game, so it is likely Michigan State will scheme around containing Cowan.
That means the rest of the roster will have to put up some points. Aside from sophomore guard Kevin Huerter’s 16 points, no other Maryland player had double figures against Michigan State. Outside of Cowan and Huerter, who combined to score 42 points, the rest of Maryland’s players score a combined 19 points. That isn’t going to work against the Spartans.
The only advantage Maryland has is its home record. At 12-1, the Terps are a completely different team at the Xfinity Center than they are on the road. That home stand will face its toughest test to this point in the Spartans, and a win will go a long way to saving Maryland’s season.
Tipoff is set for Sunday, Jan. 27, at 1 p.m.
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