It was the tale of two halves for the University of Maryland men’s basketball team Tuesday night in their ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup against the University of Pittsburgh. After trailing by 21 at halftime and as much as 25 early in the second half, the Terps (7-1) comeback attempt came up short in a 73-59 loss to the Panthers (6-1) in front of a crowd of 17,144 at the Xfinity Center.
“We got punched in the mouth in the first half and didn’t react very well to it,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “But our kids kept battling, so it shows you we have a lot of fight in us. It just wasn’t our night.”
The Terps took a 13-7 lead out of the gate, but then the Panthers took over.
Pitt went on an 8-0 run to take the lead and then a 24-4 run after Jared Nickens hit a three pointer to give Maryland a 16-15 lead with 12:25 left in the first half. Every time the Terps tried to push back the Panthers responded, and Maryland trailed 45-24 at halftime.
While Pitt didn’t play anyone taller than 6’9, their length on the perimeter bothered the Terps, as they didn’t have a starter shorter than 6’6 and deployed a 3-2 zone.
Maryland made its first three point attempts, but finished the first half one for 13 beyond the arc. The Terps also shot just four for 20 in the last 15:32, giving the Panthers ample opportunity to extend its lead. Despite struggling against the zone, Turgeon didn’t think it would be a big problem going forward.
“The first half I thought we got a good look, we just weren’t making them,” Turgeon said.
One of the main problems the Terps had against the zone was getting to the foul line. The Terps shot just 12 free throws, and Melo Trimble went to the line just four times.
“We needed a defense that could keep him (Trimble) away from the rim and off the foul line,” Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings said.
Panthers forward Michael Young added that stopping Trimble was a big emphasis for them heading into the game.
“He makes everything run, he makes their team go,” Young said of Trimble. “We just knew he was the heart and soul of the team. If they were going to win they needed him to play well and we knew that.”
While Maryland struggled on the offensive end, Pitt flourished, shooting 67 percent from the field and 50 percent on three pointers.
“Their whole team was going, they were loose as a goose in the first half,” Turgeon said.
Young and Jamel Artis combined for 25 points in the first half,more than Maryland had as a team. The duo finished with 47 points – Young with 25 and Artis with 22.
The Panthers had a slow start to the second half, shooting just three for their first 12, but the Terps shot just 36 percent and could only trim the lead to 54-35.
The Panthers offense continued to sputter in the second half, and Maryland had a window of opportunity to crawl its way back into the game. A three from Dion Wiley cut the lead to 15 with 8:31 left, and then a layup from Anthony Cowan cut the lead to eight with 3:35 left.
“We just kept fighting, kept playing, and everyone believed,” center Damonte Dodd said.
Cekovsky blocked Sheldon Jeter on the following possession, and Cowan was fouled on the other end, but missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Maryland would not get any closer, and the team that had come from behind for five of its seven wins this season could not do it again Tuesday night.