Another tough home game, another tough loss.
Northwestern (6-12, 1-6 B1G) collapsed down the stretch after taking a 14 point lead into half against #17 Maryland Terrapins (15-4, 4-4 B1G). Behind center Jalen Smith’s 25 points, the Terps found their stroke in the second half to pull away 77-66 and leave the ‘Cats stuck on one conference win.
Northwestern’s zone defense swarmed the Terrapins early, preventing lead guard Anthony Cowen from breaking through the front line of Wildcat defenders. Forced into taking perimeter shots, nothing fell for Maryland, who shot 24% from the field behind a palty 29.4% from three.
“We were getting downhill a lot,” said AJ Turner. “We were making the extra pass, the extra play, and guys were just knocking down shots.”
Pat Spencer aggressively led Northwestern to a 14-3 lead before Terrapin coach Mark Turgeon called timeout, but neither Cowen nor Smith could take advantage of an inexperienced Wildcat lineup. Smith in particular was double-teamed anytime he neared the baseline, preventing him from using his size against a smaller Ryan Young.
Spencer opened excellent shooting looks for Miller Kopp and Pete Nance. The latter struggled with a couple five-footers near the basket, but otherwise imposed his size on Maryland defenders. Every Wildcat to step onto the court hit at least one field goal in the first half, led by Kopp’s 11. Northwestern went into half up 40-26, perhaps prompting the inevitable “how will they blow it this time” quips from a probably stunned but equally cynical crowd. Just about everything went Northwestern’s way in the first, and Maryland had to regress to the mean at some point.
It did not take long for the Terps to halve Northwestern’s lead on the back of Cowen and Smith. The slithery guard scored 12 in the second, while Smith showcased his versatility with a triple to cut the deficit to six. Maryland had much more success breaking Northwestern’s perimeter, hitting the bonus in under ten minutes. Foul calls piled up as the ‘Cats’ defensive lapses sent the Terps to the line 19 times in the second half. Maryland took the lead with around nine minutes left on back-to-back triples from Wiggins and Cowen, forcing Collins to call timeout.
Maryland could not pull away despite the total switch in momentum in their direction. The ‘Cats countered every Maryland bucket with one of their own. At around the two minute mark, Maryland forced AJ Turner and Boo Buie into two consecutive airballs, and Smith hit a three to give the Terps an insurmountable nine point lead. Maryland closed out the win 77-66.
“It’s a tough one to swallow tonight,” Collins said. I thought we were locked in. We’ve got to get to the point where a team makes a run on us. We’ve gotta dig down. When teams have done that to us, we haven't been able to get back.”
Despite the promise the young ‘Cats show week in and week out, late-game losses like these are tough to stomach. Maryland entered the game without a true road win, and if there was ever a chance to steal a win from one of the conference contenders, this was it.
“I’m hoping that when we break through that will lead to sustained success,” Collins said. “[With a young team], you see development, you see growth, but it’s really hard to win at this level. The last step is being able to break through and win these conference games.”
Northwestern returns against Ohio State on Sunday, Jan. 26 at Welsh-Ryan.