With the Maryland men's basketball team reeling after its 71-68 loss to Indiana last Monday, the program summoned all of the mojo it could muster before Sunday's matchup with No. 6 Michigan State. A win against the Spartans would have been the perfect antidote to a month that's sent the Terps tumbling down the Big Ten standings and to the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble.
Former Terps guard Greivis Vásquez, known for a fiery on-court persona that fueled his 2009-10 ACC Player of the Year honor, spoke with the team this week about playing with emotion. Vasquez joined legendary former coach Gary Williams for a pregame chat with fans and sat courtside next to beloved SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt. Fans donning red and white giveaway T-shirts arrived hours early to rehearse dance moves for Xfinity Center's annual flash mob.
Maryland's 8-0 run to start the game capitalized on those circumstances by inviting the crowd into the game. But all of the enthusiasm on display was ultimately wasted in a 74-68 loss, as poor rebounding and late shooting struggles plummeted the Terps to ninth place in the conference.
"Building was terrific, which was great to see. Gave us a lot of energy," coach Mark Turgeon said. "We just couldn't get a rebound."
"It's frustrating," guard Kevin Huerter added.
When guard Darryl Morsell threw down an alley-oop on the Terps' third possession, he pointed his finger in the air to acknowledge guard Anthony Cowan's pass and laughed as he trotted back on defense. Moments later, guard Dion Wiley drilled a 3-pointer in the corner and turned to stare at the Spartans bench while the Xfinity Center crowd roared.
As the Terps built a double-digit first-half advantage, Vasquez implored players to continue showing the kind of edge he once made his trademark quality in College Park, at one point seeming to yell words of encouragement toward Morsell. The freshman responded with a layup that prompted Vasquez to vacate his seat and pump up the crowd.
"This is one of the loudest crowds, period, in the country," Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson said. "It is amazing."
Maryland led by 13 at halftime via a 3-pointer from guard Jared Nickens in the final seconds of the period. But the Spartans controlled the boards after the break, out-rebounding the Terps, 24-13, in the second half to power a comeback victory.
The energy Maryland expended could cause a letdown in the coming weeks — a major cause for concern given the team's precarious tournament hopes. Turgeon's squad must be near-perfect down the stretch to qualify, but it'll face potential stumbling blocks in No. 3 Purdue, Penn State, Nebraska and No. 25 Michigan.
But after a sixth loss by six or fewer points put the Terps' postseason aspirations in further jeopardy, Turgeon insisted a turnaround remains possible, saying, "If I can just get us where I want to get us, we'll have a chance."
After missing another opportunity to earn a quality win, the seventh-year coach is running out of time.
This was one of Nickens' best games of the season, as he hit his first 3-point attempt and didn't look back en route to a crucial 10-point performance off the bench. The perimeter-oriented guard even made a rare drive to the basket for a second-half layup, underlining his confidence against the Spartans.
Huerter led the Terps with 17 points and played solid defense, helping hold Michigan State under 40 percent shooting. But his three turnovers to just one assist held back his value to the team.
Once again, Cowan played every minute, continuing to serve as the Terps' iron man. So while his 12 points and nine assists weren't season-highs, it was nonetheless a solid performance.
Despite getting blocked on a late layup attempt as the Terps tried to stage a rally, Morsell provided quality minutes against a Spartans team that gave him fits in a 30-point drubbing on Jan. 4. The freshman was 4-for-11 from the field and hauled in a team-high seven rebounds.
With just two points on 1-for-8 shooting against Michigan State, Fernando is averaging just 3.8 points in his past five contests. That's not a good enough given Maryland's injury issues.