Maryland men's basketball guard Kevin Huerter pump faked and watched as a Michigan State defender flew past him with a couple of seconds left in the first half of the Terps' 91-61 loss to the No. 1 Spartans on Thursday.
Having created his best look of the half, the sophomore fired his sixth 3-pointer, looking to head to the locker room with 17 points and a single-digit deficit. Instead, Huerter airballed by several feet, and the Spartans never let Maryland closer than 10 points after halftime.
Huerter and Maryland's 3-point shooting kept the game competitive for most of the first half, but the Terps struggled to find consistent offense anywhere else. Once the Terps' long-range success stopped, Michigan State took over, capitalizing on the Terps' limited depth by holding them to 28 percent shooting in the second half.
Guard Anthony Cowan scored 12 points in the final 10 minutes to finish with 26 points, but the Terps managed just four points in the paint after halftime, showing how difficult their road to the NCAA tournament is without injured forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender.
"I don't like [Cowan] dribbling all the time. That's not the way we want to play," coach Mark Turgeon said. "But tonight, at times, that's kind of how we had to just to score."
Huerter's third — and final — triple of the game came with about eight minutes left in the first half, giving the Terps a 27-26 lead.
From there, the Spartans outscored the Terps 65-34 and held them to 25 percent shooting, including 4-for-14 from 3-point range after Maryland connected on four of its first six long-range attempts.
"We couldn't go by them off the dribble, we couldn't get separation in ball screens and we couldn't come off ball screens and get shots," Turgeon said. "They were just really good defensively."
Despite Huerter managing just two points after halftime, he and Cowan combined for 42 of Maryland's 61 points. No other Terp scored more than forward Bruno Fernando's seven points.
Michigan State placed added defensive attention on Huerter due to Jackson being out for the year with a torn labrum, Turgeon said.
"I start off the game hot," Huerter said. "I didn't get the same looks the rest of the game."
The Terps knew they'd be facing one of the country's fiercest frontcourts Thursday, and knew they'd be doing so shorthanded.
Without much depth, Maryland's big men need to avoid foul trouble against any Big Ten opponent, let alone the top-ranked Spartans. But Fernando and center Michal Cekovsky entered halftime with five combined fouls.
Fernando's exit after earning his second infraction fueled the Spartans' 15-3 run to finish the first half. Maryland didn't score for more than four minutes after the Angolan was forced to sit on the bench.
"It has a huge impact," Turgeon said. "But with that said, just because a guy picks up two [fouls], we can't go in the tank. And we did."
But even if the Terps traveled to East Lansing healthy and navigated the game without committing fouls, they would've been hard-pressed to beat the Spartans' suffocating defense for 40 minutes.
And on a night like Thursday, when the No. 1 team in the nation shot nearly 60 percent from 3-point range, it would have taken a superhuman effort on offense to change the result for the Terps.
"What separates them this year is they're really guarding you, they're really defending you," Turgeon said. "You don't get anything easy and you definitely don't get anything easy by the rim."