WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — It seemed the Maryland men's basketball team's upset bid at No. 3 Purdue was over before the game even started.
Center Michal Cekovsky suffered a left heel injury in practice Tuesday and didn't travel to West Lafayette, leaving the ninth-place Terps with just eight scholarship players as they tried to snap the Boilermakers' 17-game win streak. Coach Mark Turgeon's depleted unit, featuring only three players above 6-foot-7, was tasked with containing 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas, who entered the contest averaging 14.6 points per game.
The challenge Maryland faced was clear from the first possession. Haas won the tip and, 11 seconds later, backed down forward Bruno Fernando and drained an easy hook shot. Purdue never relinquished that lead and Maryland lost 75-67, despite intermittent second-half surges, marking its fifth defeat in six tries.
"We just couldn't guard Haas," Turgeon said. "He's a beast."
A trio of 3-pointers from guard Kevin Huerter brought Maryland (15-9, 4-7 Big Ten) within three points with about nine minutes remaining. The Boilermakers (22-2, 11-0 Big Ten) responded with a 7-0 run that erased Maryland's momentum, though a strong performance from Fernando down the stretch kept Maryland close into the final minutes.
Fernando matched Haas with 20 points, while Huerter scored 16.
Fernando's play was particularly impressive considering he picked up his fourth foul with about 12 minutes left. Center Sean Obi, who entered Wednesday averaging 5.9 minutes, fouled out with more than 10 minutes left, a result of being forced into duty against one of the conference's toughest matchups.
"Sean played five minutes, five fouls," Turgeon said, only slightly exaggerating Obi's true five-foul, eight-minute performance. "[Forward Josh Tomaic] couldn't guard him, which isn't fair to Josh."
Haas' 8-for-14 performance would've easily buried the Terps were his teammates hitting shots like they have been all year.
Maryland trailed by 11 points at halftime despite Purdue going just 4-for-14 from 3-point range, far from its Big Ten-best 43.6 percent season clip. The Terps only mustered a 31.8 percent field goal percentage before the break, however, struggling mightily against Purdue's half-court defense.
"We were a little out of it early," Turgeon said. "A lot of that had to do with Purdue. Their defense is terrific, and the building."
After halftime, Maryland wore the Boilermakers down, Turgeon said. The Terps shot 17-for-31 from the field in the second half and committed just three turnovers, down from 11 before halftime.
"We were able to get into our offense more," guard Darryl Morsell said. "And we were making a run, so you make a run, everybody gets more confident."
Still, despite the double-digit scoring efforts of Morsell, Fernando and Huerter in the second half, Purdue kept Maryland at bay.
Fittingly, a Haas dunk with 44 seconds left ended any hopes of a miraculous comeback, putting the Boilermakers up by eight points after an acrobatic Fernando and-one had given the Terps momentary life.
The next time down the floor, Purdue broke Maryland's press and guard Jared Nickens committed a foul. All Fernando could offer was a consolatory high five as it was clear the Terps had yet again come up short of the statement win they've been searching for all year.
With a weak schedule in the final month, Maryland will finish the season without any notable road victories, a glaring hole on an NCAA tournament resume that's thinned considerably over the past three weeks and looks increasingly unqualified for the 68-team field.
On Tuesday, Turgeon said his team couldn't be content merely keeping games close. After the eight-point defeat, however, the seventh-year head coach spoke as if his team still has time to bridge the gap.
"You don't get a participation certificate," Turgeon said. "But we're getting better."