Busting Brackets

Maryland Basketball: Terps play with fire one too many times (Video)

Feb 18, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Gophers fans storm the court after the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Williams Arena. Minnesota Gophers beat he Maryland Terrapins 68-63. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Gophers fans storm the court after the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Williams Arena. Minnesota Gophers beat he Maryland Terrapins 68-63. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

Maryland basketball has been playing with fire all season, and this time Minnesota made them pay.

The No. 6 Maryland Terrapins have been flirting with disaster all season. Games against teams like Rider, Penn State, Georgetown, Illinois State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Nebraska and Purdue were all close late in the second half and the Terps found a way to escape with a victory.

The Terps are undeniably one of the most talented teams in the country, but on the road at conference winless Minnesota they found themselves unable to recover from some poor play.

The Golden Gophers came into the game enduring an abysmal season at 6-19 overall and 0-13 in the Big Ten. Five out of their top eight rotational were underclassmen, including sophomore leading scorer Nate Mason. It goes without saying that nearly everyone expected Minnesota to lose against the Terps. Vegas had them as 10.5 point dogs. But…there were signs that Minnesota had improved, despite their terrible record.

In conference play, Minnesota had dropped many close games. Out of the 13 conference losses, six of them were by seven points or less. The top half of the conference had already received some close calls from Richard Pitino’s group. This included a four-point road loss to Iowa last Sunday, a six-point road loss to Indiana on January 30th, a four-point home loss to Purdue on January 27th and an eight-point home loss to the then top-ranked Spatans on January 2nd.

Poor defense, inexperience and shooting have been constant headaches for the Golden Gophers this season. There was a sense though that they were close to breaking through. Minnesota’s home court, “The Barn”, is one of the best home-court advantages in the Big Ten, no matter the standings.

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For Maryland, as alluded to,  they have played with fire this season. Their superior talent, ability to get baskets down the stretch and size advantage have worked to save them in multiple games. For tonight’s game though, Maryland was short-handed.

The team suspended freshman center Diamond Stone for slamming the head of Wisconsin forward Vitto Brown to the ground in last Saturday’s loss at home against the Badgers. Stone, who averages nearly 13 points a game, would have been a key weapon against the Gophers as Minnesota is not too deep on the front line.

Maryland was also trying to correct a sluggish offense from Saturday’s game against the Badgers as they were pounded on the boards, went nearly 11 minutes without scoring in the first half and star point guard Melo Trimble was 1-14 from the field.

The first half of tonight’s game was nearly a replay of Saturday’s nightmare for Maryland. Missed shots, opportunities and only four points over a seven-minute stretch in the first half let the Golden Gophers jump out to a 40-29 lead at half.

The second half has much more tightly contested. Maryland slowly chipped away at the Minnesota lead. A Melo Trimble jumper cut Minnesota’s lead to one at 56-55 with still 5:19 left in the game. Then a Rasheed Sulaimon three-pointer with 3:08 left gave the Terps their first lead since 10-7.

It looked like a game-changing shot. It was the exact type of terrible moment that has haunted Minnesota all season. Tonight, though, Minnesota took a step in learning how to win. A defense that has been lost most of the season only gave up one more field goal and on the offensive end scraped and clawed their way to offensive rebounds and free throws.

As the buzzer sounded, the Minnesota faithful stormed the court – an exuberant reaction to a long-awaited victory over a top team in the conference.

Leading the way for the Golden Gophers was a pair of underclassman. Guard Nate Mason led the way with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Forward Jordan Murphy scored 17 points and collected 11 rebounds. Maryland’s Diamond Stone was missed as the Terps could have used his depth, rim protecting, rebounding and post-ups with the offense struggling.

Big Ten Network was able to catch some of this reaction from senior guard Joey King in an emotional post-game interview.

For Melo Trimble, it was another rough game. The Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year has struggled as of late and tonight was much of the same. He scored 10 points on 3-11 shooting and had 6 rebounds and 6 assists. He also committed 6 turnovers.

Overall, the questions become louder for Maryland as this loss drops them to 22-5 overall and 10-4 in the conference. For a team with national championship aspirations, the last two games have been huge setbacks and could have disastrous ramifications for post-season tournament seeding. Games against Michigan, Purdue (road) and Indiana (road) still loom large.

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This college basketball season has been one of the craziest and most unpredictable in recent memory. The latest chapter was written tonight in Minneapolis. As March approaches, the games only seem to be creating more chaos and questions.