MADISON, Wis. — Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon would have said "no way" if you told him before the season that his team would be 22-4 and in contention for a Big Ten title entering Sunday's game at No. 11 Wisconsin.
While the shock value decreased as the freshmen trio developed and star guard Melo Trimble looked more like the freshman version of himself, the sixth-year coach was still surprised about the Terps' accomplishments, such as their 10-3 conference record and one loss away from Xfinity Center with two weeks left in the regular season.
Turgeon maintained his group was still improving, and those efforts were on display in the first half of Maryland's 71-60 loss to the Badgers at the Kohl Center. Trimble scored 15 points and Wisconsin shot 28 percent. Despite allowing eight offensive rebounds and 20 free throw attempts, the Terps entered halftime with a 33-27 lead after Trimble's back-to-back 3-pointers in the waning moments.
But after Wisconsin's 11-3 run to open the second half put it up by two at the under-16 timeout, the Terps' hot 3-point shooting and stout interior defense disappeared. While Trimble scored 12 second-half points, Wisconsin responded with made freebies and second-chance points to ensure Maryland would leave Madison one game behind it and Purdue for first place in the conference standings.
"We just couldn't get a stop, and I think that was the difference," guard Kevin Huerter said. "The first half we were all right offensively. I thought second half we were all right offensively — Melo was doing a lot of that. But the second half we couldn't get a stop. And when we did get a stop, they got an offensive rebound or we fouled."
Trimble followed up a career-high 32-point performance Wednesday against Northwestern with 27 points Sunday, but another stellar individual effort wasn't enough for Maryland (22-5, 10-4 Big Ten). Forwards Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ led the way for Wisconsin (22-5, 11-3), combining to score 41 points and take 25 foul shots. Guard Bronson Koenig added nine second-half points after his one-game absence with a left calf injury.
"We couldn't guard them," Turgeon said of the Badgers' All-Big Ten duo. "We couldn't double them. We couldn't guard them [one-on-one]. They were great."
Turgeon said in a conference call Friday that Wisconsin, which was coming off losses to Northwestern and Michigan, would be the biggest team the Terps have played this season — even bigger than No. 16 Purdue, which secured 40 boards in Maryland's 73-72 loss Feb. 4.
Sunday, the Terps' rebounding discrepancy worsened. Wisconsin held a 44-27 rebounding advantage and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds. The Badgers also shot 37 free throws, making 21.
The Terps and Badgers traded buckets for much of the first half, the former hitting three of their first six 3-pointers and the latter receiving interior production from Happ and Hayes. Maryland's downfall came from carelessness, committing 11 opening-period turnovers, while Wisconsin's backcourt seldomly hit outside shots. Koenig did not score in the period.
With the game tied at 27 with one minute and 19 seconds to play, Trimble's outside shooting ensured Maryland entered halftime with the lead. His consecutive triples marked the last of his 15 first-half points. After knocking it down from the left wing, Trimble flashed a smile at the Badgers bench.
There wasn't much for Trimble to grin about after halftime. He tried to lead Maryland back, as he's done several times during his career, but couldn't keep up with the Badgers offensive production. At the 4:32 mark, Turgeon sensed Trimble's fatigue — he missed the front end of back-to-back one-and-ones — and decided it wasn't worth keeping the junior in the game with Wisconsin up 64-52.
"I thought I was getting a breather, but I ended up not going in," Trimble said. "The game was pretty much pushed out to the point where there's no point for me to go back in."
While Trimble excelled, Maryland's freshmen trio faltered, combining for 16 points and five turnovers.
Turgeon addressed his first-year players' performances but didn't appear concerned about them. Maryland kept it close late in the game, he said, which ensured this group was "pretty good" and will be ready for Wednesday's home tilt with Minnesota.
But hanging with a top-15 team wasn't good enough for Huerter, who viewed the loss as a missed opportunity.
"We came in here expecting to win and thought we could, to potentially be in a good spot to win the league," Huerter said. "We know they're going to be there at the end of the year, and hopefully we get another shot at them."