Guard Kevin Huerter sat in the Maryland men’s basketball team’s locker room with his red Maryland hoodie over his head after the Terps’ loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament on March 1.
After most of Maryland’s road losses this season, Huerter explained that the Terps were one or two plays away from winning but came up short due to the same mistakes — late misfires and missed rebounds — yet again. Still, he added the team would have to fix those issues.
Following the defeat that ended Maryland’s season, a reporter asked the sophomore why the Terps never managed to correct their late rebounding woes. Huerter paused for about three seconds and said he didn’t have an answer.
“It’s been happening all year,” Huerter added.
After the Terps’ ninth loss by six or fewer points, they had few explanations.
Down one of Madison Square Garden’s hallways, coach Mark Turgeon sat at the interview podium, recounting the final sequences of his team’s second opening Big Ten tournament game loss in as many years.
“Whether it was a rebound or a missed shot or whatever it was, we just couldn’t get it,” Turgeon said. “It’s kind of the way the year’s gone.”
Analysts predicted Maryland would at least qualify for the National Invitational Tournament, but the Big Ten tournament defeat left the team out of the postseason for the first time in four years, capping one of Maryland’s most disappointing seasons under Turgeon.
Maryland’s only win over an NCAA tournament at-large team was in November against Butler.
The outlook on Maryland’s season changed in December, when forwards Justin Jackson (torn labrum) and Ivan Bender (torn meniscus) suffered season-ending injuries.
While Jackson underperformed on offense early in the season, the sophomore led Maryland in rebounds per game (8.1) and could guard almost any player with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.
Bender was a role player, but his injury left Maryland with four healthy frontcourt players. Plus, forward Bruno Fernando and center Michal Cekovsky dealt with injuries throughout the season, so the Terps sometimes played with eight scholarship players.
The Terps lost seven of their final 11 games and suffered the worst loss of Turgeon’s tenure at Michigan State on Jan. 4.
Maryland squandered chances to bolster its postseason resume during losses at Michigan, Indiana and Penn State. The Terps also blew a 13-point halftime lead in a home defeat to Michigan State on Jan. 28 and were showered with boos at halftime of their regular-season finale loss to Michigan, Maryland’s worst home defeat in 20 years.
Guard Anthony Cowan often missed Maryland’s shots late in games, sometimes abandoning Turgeon’s play calls for Huerter, and Maryland failed to secure rebounds when it needed them most, such as in its losses at Penn State and Nebraska.
So, it was only fitting the Terps’ season ended by allowing Wisconsin to grab two offensive rebounds late.
“They just wanted it more, I guess,” forward Joshua Tomaic said. “We were there, but they were just one second ahead.”
Without former guard Melo Trimble, who was 31-8 in games decided by six or fewer points during his three years and gave the team confidence away from Xfinity Center, Maryland went 2-8 on the road this year and lacked a go-to scorer down the stretch.
Plus, Maryland failed to find consistent contributors beyond Cowan and Huerter, who averaged 15.8 and 14.8 points, respectively.
“Last year, we knew we’d be in the tournament even though the second half of our year went downhill pretty quickly,” Huerter said. “We were hoping to play our way into something, win a couple games [at the Big Ten tournament], possibly win the whole thing. We didn’t do that.”
Expectations will be higher for 2018-19. Maryland will likely return most of its key contributors, including Cowan and Huerter, and the Terps’ recruiting class is currently ranked No. 14 in the country by 247Sports. Jackson and Fernando, however, may leave for the NBA draft.
Turgeon has five years remaining on his contract, which includes no buyout. He’s qualified for three NCAA tournaments — all with Trimble — in his seven years at Maryland, and next season will likely be crucial for his future in College Park.
While the losses piled up, the Terps were entangled in the FBI investigation into college basketball, adding another layer of stress during the mediocre campaign. The university is conducting an internal review due to a report that an agency gave Diamond Stone an improper loan while he was at Maryland.
The struggles Maryland faced left guard Darryl Morsell in tears in the Big Ten tournament locker room after another late miscue ended the Terps’ season.
“Everyone involved with Maryland basketball, we’ve been through a lot this season,” Morsell said in a quivering voice. “It hurts for all of us.”