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Why Does Maryland Struggle So Much In Close Games?

The Terps are just 4-8 in games decided by seven points or less

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland did a rare thing this past Monday when it traveled to Chicago to play the Northwestern Wildcats.

It won a close game on the road.

This game was not as close as others throughout the season, the Terrapins handled the Wildcats 71-64, but the Wildcats were within five with just over a minute to play. For Maryland fans this season, that is close enough to be worried.

While Maryland is relieved to get a solid win to keep its distant NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the road win, only its second of the season, raises confounding questions about why the Terps have struggled so much on the road and in close games.

In order to try and figure that out, we’ve taken a closer look at games in which Maryland has led or trailed by less than three positions with four minutes to play. In those games, we’ve tried to identify key stats to see if there were trends in Maryland’s play. These stats are opponent offensive rebounds, free throws, opponent free throws, field goal percentage, and field goal percentage defense.

The games that we looked are as follows:

  • vs. Bucknell (W)
  • vs. St Bonaventure (L)
  • at Syracuse (L)
  • at Illinois (W)
  • vs. Penn State (W)
  • at Michigan (L)
  • at Indiana (L)
  • vs. Michigan State (L)
  • at Penn State (L)
  • at Nebraska (L)

Before we begin, it should be mentioned that Maryland has struggled mightily with injuries this season. Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender were lost early in the season, and things could have been different with this tandem in the lineup. Still, nearly half these games happened with Bender and Jackson playing.

Now let’s check out what we’ve found.

Free Throws

The first thing that jumps out is the amount of opponent free throws.

In games that were within two positions with four minutes to go, Maryland made 34-50 (68 percent) from the line. Opponents made nearly as many as Maryland attempted. Their totals came in at 48-69 (70 percent).

One could argue that Maryland was behind and had to foul at the end, and that is why those numbers are skewed. Not a bad point, but at or around the four-minute mark in these games, Maryland was leading or tied in five of the ten games. It trailed by just two against Syracuse and at Nebraska and Penn State they were only four points behind. These are not exactly insurmountable deficits.

The truth is probably closer to the fact that Maryland fouled at inopportune times and its opponents made them pay for it. Below are a few examples:

  • St. Bonaventure found itself trailing 56-53 with under four minutes remaining and finished the last part of play hitting all eight of its free throws attempts. Maryland was just 3-4. Six of the eight makes came when St. Bonaventure was trailing.
  • Nebraska led 63-59 with four minutes remaining last week and didn’t make a field goal to finish out the game. They still won 70-66 thanks to making 7-8 free throws to Maryland’s 1-2 free throw effort.
  • Michigan State faced a similar situation in its crazy win against Maryland in College Park. The Spartans went the last 4:55 without a field goal, but made 11 of 12 free throw attempts to stave off a Maryland rally. Anthony Cowan’s foul with under a minute left down two was a critical error in helping put Michigan State over the top.
  • Obviously, the controversial Bruno Fernando foul on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to end the Michigan game needs to be mentioned here as well. Still, Michigan concluded that game shooting 8-12 from the foul line, while Maryland was 4-4.

Opponent Offensive Rebounding

The second part worth mentioning is opponent offensive rebounding. Maryland has been a mixed bag on the boards all season. They rank in the top five in the Big Ten in rebounding margin and rebounding defense but have given up crucial offensive rebounds in key situations.

The most egregious example of this rearing its ugly head came in the close loss to Indiana on January 22nd. Indiana and Maryland were tied at 62 with four minutes to play, and the Terrapins painfully led the charge in their own demise.

With Maryland trailing 67-66 with 38 seconds remaining Indiana senior Josh Newkirk missed both free throws, but was saved by Jawun Morgan as he skied between two Maryland players to grab the offensive rebound and score. You can see the play at the 3:35 mark below. The Terps ended up losing 71-68.

Another unfortunate example came again from the Michigan loss.

With Maryland trailing 59-54 with 2:48 to play, the Terps looked like they forced another empty possession from the Wolverines. Michigan had gone around three minutes from their last score, and Maryland was gradually chipping away. Instead of an opportunity to cut the lead to a one-possession game, Maryland let Mo Wagner grab an offensive rebound and get fouled to send him to the line for two shots. Wagner would make both free throws and Michigan just barely hung on to a one-point victory.

Field Goal Percentage Defense

This was a semi-surprising one.

Maryland’s defense this season hasn’t been all that bad. The Terrapins rank second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense and fifth in three-point field goal percentage defense. KenPom isn’t as high on the Terps on the defensive end (no. 55), but they’ve shown flashes of a solid defensive team that’s come a long way from giving up 78 points to Bucknell.

Still, Maryland’s defense down the stretch in close games often has left much to be desired. In the ten games analyzed, Maryland has given up a combined 57 percent shooting from the field. Take a look at some examples.

  • The ACC/Big Ten Challenge at Syracuse might be the worst example. The Terps trailed the Orange 63-61 with four minutes to play, but Syracuse finished the game 3-5 from the field thanks to some big shots from Tyus Battle and escaped with a 72-70 win.
  • St. Bonaventure finished their win against Maryland 2-3 from the field, including the game-winning lay-up from Courtney Stockard.

Maryland has been better than a porous start in close finishes, but breakdowns still have occurred with 50 field goal percentage defense in losses to Penn State and Indiana.

Overall

It has been a tough and disappointing season for the Terrapins. Maryland has been especially disappointing in close games, amassing a 4-8 record in games decided by seven points or less. In looking at 10 of their closest losses, free throws, extra possessions and defensive breakdowns all have trended in the wrong direction.

Despite the close losses, Maryland still has a chance to make a late run to the NCAA Tournament. It might be a long shot, but if a few of the things above go Maryland’s way, things still can turn around.