Maryland men’s basketball guard Anthony Cowan can’t help but replay the late-game mishaps that have contributed to four losses in the past five games.
Cowan missed his defensive assignment on a 50-foot inbound pass against then-No. 23 Michigan with three seconds left, setting up game-winning free throws for the Wolverines. He clanked a would-be game-tying 3-pointer with six seconds remaining against Indiana. His attempted drive to the basket against then-No. 6 Michigan State with 42 seconds to go ended with a blocked shot and the Spartans taking the ball the other way.
But he’s not the only one wallowing in the what-ifs of a stretch that’s dropped the Terps to eighth place in the Big Ten. After all, Maryland shot below 40 percent as a team in the second half of its losses to Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State.
That’s led to uncomfortable team-wide introspection ahead of one of its toughest tests of the season: a road matchup with No. 3 Purdue, the winner of 17 consecutive games.
“A lot of people who play at this level come from backgrounds where you probably didn’t lose a lot as a kid,” guard Kevin Huerter said. “So when you go through stretches like this, tough stretches, you don’t always know how to handle it.”
The Terps are looking for ways to get better as they scramble to improve an unconvincing NCAA tournament resume.
Huerter watches tape to help curb his turnovers — he’s given the ball away 2.6 times per game — while Cowan recently relived his crunch time errors to try and improve his decision making.
When Cowan saw how Spartans forward Jaren Jackson easily swatted his shot away Sunday, he realized how many options he had besides driving to the hoop.
“[Guard Dion Wiley] being wide open, [forward Bruno Fernando] being right under the basket or Kevin coming back off that screen,” Cowan said. “There’s nothing you can really do about it now, just keep learning from it.”
Maryland believes it’s improving, even though the squad is struggling to beat teams in the upper half of the conference. Cowan and coach Mark Turgeon both pointed out that Sunday’s loss to Michigan State was markedly closer than the Terps’ 91-61 defeat to the Spartans on Jan. 4.
But Turgeon has also said his team cannot be content with simply staying close against good teams. The Terps are 3-6 in games decided by six points or fewer.
“We messed up both offensively and defensively,” Huerter said of the Michigan State game. “Some of it was just us breaking down in certain spots. If you want to be a good team, you have to clear some of that up.”
Maryland has no ranked wins to help its postseason chances and few opportunities to add quality victories as the season winds down. Of its final eight regular season games, only Purdue and No. 24 Michigan are ranked opponents.
That’s a difficult situation for the Terps to be in as they travel to West Lafayette to face the Boilermakers, who haven’t lost at home in more than a year.
“With our remaining schedule, we know this is a big game for us,” Huerter said. “Especially trying to get that road win that a committee can look at and say, ‘That was a good win for them.'”