The No. 4 Maryland Terrapins did not have another miracle comeback in them on Tuesday night as they suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of Penn State. The loss marks the fourth straight year the Terps have lost in College Station. Here are my takeaways from the Terps 76-69 loss.
The slow start finally comes back to bite them
A common theme in Maryland’s play this season has been starting the game off on the wrong foot. With its talent and depth, they’ve been able to come back in every game. After a scoring drought consisting of nine possessions without a basket, the Nittany Lions used an 11-0 run to get out to a lead they would not look back from.
Maryland came into the contest averaging just under 11 turnovers per game, but they coughed the ball up 13 times in the first half alone. The Terps finished the game with a season-high 20 turnovers, which Penn State scored 22 points off of.
The lone bright spot in the first half was the play of Eric Ayala. The sophomore was aggressive early, getting to the rim for some acrobatic finishes and converting on a three-pointer. Ayala was basically the only source of offense, scoring or assisting on the Terps first 17 points. But he could not do enough to salvage the poor play as the Terps trailed by 10 entering the break.
In typical fashion, Mark Turgeon’s team went on a second-half run. Senior Anthony Cowan drilled a three-pointer with 11 minutes remaining to cut the lead to two. On the ensuing possession, the Terps got a stop, but Makhi Mitchell had the rebound ripped out of his hands by Iziaah Brockington who found a cutting Mike Watkins for a slam dunk. The Terps would not get that close again.
Stix goes quiet
Jalen Smith registered his seventh double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 boards, but he also attempted a season-low five shots. The Baltimore big man came out hot, nailing a three on the Terps second possession but then he faded into the background.
“Stix” got himself into some foul trouble, picking up his third pretty early in the second half but he played 28 minutes. Nittany Lions center Mike Watkins, the conference leader in blocks, did a good job defensively on Smith. However, strong defensive big men are a staple of the Big Ten so Smith needs to rise to the challenge for the Terps to win these tough road games.
Wiggins (shooting) woes continue
During his freshman campaign, Aaron Wiggins excelled as a spot-up shooter off the bench. Wiggins led the team in three-point percentage at 41 percent and hit big shots against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan, and LSU.
This year, Wiggins has been thrust into a starting role and has seen an increase in minutes and shot attempts. Naturally, a decline in percentage is expected with more attempts. But after last night’s 1-6 showing from three, the sophomore is down to just 30 percent on the year from deep.
Wiggins is still getting open looks, he’s just having a hard time finding consistency. With over 6 minutes remaining, Cowan dribbled into the middle of the lane and kicked the ball out to an open Wiggins in the corner. Wiggins had a chance to cut the lead to one but his shot was way off and Penn State secured the rebound. Those are the kind of shots the Terps need Wiggins to hit on a consistent basis.
This is not a bad loss
While losing an unranked team that hasn’t made the tournament since 2011 may not execute confidence, this year’s Penn State team is actually legitimate. Pat Chambers’ squad was one bad half against Ole Miss away from being ranked.
Lamar Stevens has always been their go-to guy but the Nittany Lions showed depth on Thursday with five players scoring in double figures. They are athletic, a strong interior team and are capable of hitting outside shots. The buzz is palpable in College Station as the Nittany Lions have a real chance to make that coveted tournament appearance.
For Maryland, this kind of trap game was rather predictable. It was the Terps first true road game of the season, at a place where they have struggled as of late. The Vegas line even reflected as such, closing with Penn State as the favorite.
Now the Terps will shift their attention to another tough road opponent as they will travel to No. 22 Seton Hall on December 19th.
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