Throughout Sunday’s game and even in the final seconds, Maryland men’s basketball looked like it could finish its season on an ideal note. But an 11-3 storm in the last four minutes from Penn State put those hopes in doubt.
A timely, difficult layup from Julian Reese gave the Terps a one-point lead with 19 seconds left, and all coach Kevin Willard’s squad needed was one stop.
But Maryland couldn’t corral a wayward Nittany Lions shot and a dramatic last-second lay-in sent Penn State (19-12, 10-10 Big Ten) players screaming down the court before time had even expired as they completed a double-digit comeback win over Maryland (20-11, 11-9 Big Ten), 65-64.
With the loss, the Terps will not be able to clinch a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Other games on Sunday will determine Maryland’s exact seeding and who the Terps will face after their first-round bye.
Despite the loss, Willard emphasized that the post-season would prove to be a much different competitive environment for Maryland.
“It’s single-elimination, it’s a whole different time of year,” Willard said. “That’s what sports is all about, you got to be able to bounce back, [if you] can’t bounce back, you shouldn’t be playing sports.”
Depending on Maryland’s performance against Penn State on Sunday, the Terps could make their Big Ten Tournament stint wildly different. With a win, coach Kevin Willard’s squad would clinch a double-bye and keep their hopes alive for a seed as high as second in the conference tournament.
With a loss, Maryland would drop out of the double-bye race and could plummet as far as the No. 8 seed in the tournament. To prevent that, the Terps needed to overcome their road woes this season as they faced the Nittany Lions on their senior day in University Park.
One of those seniors, Jalen Pickett, made his presence known to the Terps early with a made jumper and a difficult deep three to give Penn State an early lead. The Nittany Lions kept the momentum and made another three before Maryland found its way back into the game. Pickett scored a team-high 16 points on the day.
Back-to-back threes from Jahmir Young and Don Carey gave the Terps a short lead before the Nittany Lions snapped it back with another long-range make. But a 14-0 run featuring three-point marksmanship from Ian Martinez established Maryland’s first firm lead.
Young led the Terps in scoring at halftime with 12 points and finished with a team-high 26 points, his best scoring performance on the road this season.
“[Young] was phenomenal,” Willard said. “He played under control, they were trapping his pick-and-rolls, they were switching his pick-and-rolls [but] I thought we stayed aggressive and it gave us a chance to win.”
Martinez landed three straight scores for Maryland — all three-pointers — near the end of the first half while Penn State struggled for several minutes to re-establish its initial offensive energy. The Costa Rican product finished with 11 points.
The Nittany Lions were held scoreless for over eight minutes but inched back into relevancy with an even 7-7 run to the end of the first half, capped off with a buzzer-beating three from Pickett. But eight turnovers, which turned into 11 Maryland points, put Penn State at a 13-point deficit at the break.
“Pickett’s three at the end of the half was a momentum-changer,” Willard said. “[The players] are upset and frustrated as they should be, but I think they understand where we’re at.”
Both squads came out animated to a vital second-half in respect to the game and both teams’ seasons. Young and Pickett, both already in the double-digits scoring, contributed to the fast-paced start.
Young dropped consecutive layups for Maryland and Pickett responded with a two-point jumper. Kebba Njie, who slammed down an open dunk earlier in the half, dropped in a layup before Carey provided a direct response at the rim. Pickett resumed the scoring with another jump-shot.
But continued scoring success from Young built Maryland’s lead back up, and tore Penn State’s crowd back down. He filled the void left by quiet scoring performances from Hakim Hart and Donta Scott, who shot a cumulative 1-for-10 from the field and finished with a combined four points.
A team effort from Dread and Funk from range threatened Maryland with a late lead change, one that only grew with a three-point foul from Pat Emilien. Seth Lundy made all three and quickly and methodically, Penn State had come back from a 15-point deficit with a corner two from Funk to leave them trailing by one with under a minute-and-a-half left.
A nifty jump-pass from Pickett to a cutting Camren Wynter left the latter with an open score and the lead. Maryland controlled most of the match until the critical final minute, but the Terps would have a chance to alter their fate.
Reeses’ layup with 19 seconds left gave Maryland a one-point lead before Penn State took the ball and trotted down the court. The Nittany Lions couldn’t find an opening initially, but Wynter’s last-second layup after an offensive rebound gave them the win.
“We played great defense [but] we tried to slap the ball instead of grabbing the ball … that’s how it fell right into [Wynter’s] hands,” Willard said.
A review put a half-second on the clock, but Maryland’s inbound pass didn’t find a red jersey as the Terps’ fell to their ninth away defeat in conference play.
“[It’s] tough to win on the road in this conference,” Willard said. “Last four road games, we’ve had our chances, we just haven’t been able to finish them.”