Second-half meltdown dents Maryland’s resume in final game at Penn State

No. 21 Maryland basketball entered the final day of the regular season needing a road victory over Penn State to earn the coveted double-bye in the Big Ten tournament.

After clawing its way back from what was once a 16-point deficit, Penn State, trailing by one in the final seconds, defeated Maryland, 65-64, as a Camren Wynter layup with less than a second remaining put the Nittany Lions on top for good.

Maryland sophomore Julian Reese converted a crafty layup with 19 seconds to go which gave Maryland a one-point lead. Directly following this, Seth Lundy’s game-winning three-point attempt missed, but the ensuing fight for the rebound led to the ball somehow landing in the hands of Wynter, who made the buzzer-beating layup.

The Terps essentially needed to win one of their final two games of the regular season – against two teams near the bottom of the conference – to clinch the double-bye in the Big Ten tournament. Instead, Maryland’s road woes were amplified with the loss at Ohio State on Wednesday and the collapse it suffered at Penn State on Sunday.

“It’s tough to win on the road in this conference,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said. “Last four road games we’ve had our chances and just haven’t been able to finish them, … Obviously we’re disappointed,  frustrated and angry because we’ve worked hard and we have battled on the road. We just haven’t been able to finish.”

Maryland has now lost its last six games in Happy Valley. The Terps, who fall to 1-9 on the road in the Big Ten this season, will await their fate in the Big Ten tournament as the remaining conference games wind down on Sunday evening.

The loss eliminated their chance at the double-bye, so the Terps will fall in the 5-8 seed range in Chicago this week and will play on Thursday.

“It’s very simple,” Willard said of how his team will flush the loss heading into the Big Ten tournament. “It’s single-elimination, it’s a whole different time of year. It’s what sports is all about, you’ve got to be able to bounce back.”

Maryland got off to an uncharacteristically good start on Sunday. After falling behind 10-4 in the opening stages of the first half, it appeared that the Terps were on their way to another flat road performance.

Instead, Maryland locked in on the defensive end, holding Penn State scoreless over a span of eight minutes to grab a 13-point lead with just over five minutes remaining in the first half. The Nittany Lions missed 10 consecutive shots and committed five turnovers during the stretch.

Offensively, Maryland relied on its three-point shooting to help build its lead. The Terps went 7-17 from three-point range in the first half, as they constantly stretched Penn State’s zone out and found the open man.

Jahmir Young – as he has done all season – continued to make his case for a spot on the First-Team All-Big Ten roster. The Charlotte transfer poured in 26 points and ripped down eight rebounds in yet another spectacular showing.

“Jahmir was phenomenal,” Willard said. “I thought he played under control, … I thought he stayed aggressive and gave us a chance to win.”

In order to win on the road in the Big Ten, role players are required to step up. Stepping up is exactly what junior Ian Martinez did on Sunday.

Martinez knocked down all three of his shots from beyond the arc, showcasing his role as the team’s sixth man and spark plug off the bench. His hot shooting (making eight of his last 11 from three) has revitalized an area where Maryland has yet to find a consistent rhythm this season.

Don Carey’s jumper with five seconds to go in the first half gave Maryland a 16-point lead, but it was short lived as Penn State’s Jalen Pickett drained a one-handed circus shot at the buzzer to trim the lead to 35-22.

Penn State came out of the locker room looking like the desperate team that needed a victory to improve its spot on the bubble. The Nittany Lions used a 10-2 spurt to cut the deficit to seven, aided by hot shooting from Myles Dread.

Dread knocked down three 3-pointers in the second half to lead the charge for Penn State’s comeback attempt. Three more second-half threes from Andrew Funk helped the Nittany Lions cut Maryland’s lead to 59-54 with just over four minutes remaining.

Penn State shot just under 59% from the field in the second half and went 6-16 from three-point range in the comeback.

On the final possession, Willard believes his team was in the right position to make the play.

“We played great defense,” he said. “We tried to slap the ball instead of grabbing the ball and we slapped the ball right out of our own hands, that’s how it fell right into [Wynter’s] hands. We’ll learn from it.”

The official seeding of the Big Ten tournament will be announced at the conclusion of Sunday’s games.

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