MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

The biggest tell of Maryland’s 68-61 loss to Northwestern on Wednesday night — the biggest tell of the Terps’ entire season — is this: At one point, Northwestern went seven minutes without making a field goal, yet still outscored Maryland 7-0 in that time.

Despite playing the best defense in the Big Ten Conference by a long shot, and being ranked No. 5 in the country, the Terps lose so many close games to good teams, as they did on Wednesday, because, as they did on Wednesday, they regularly go long stretches without scoring from the field.

The first drought came from 17:23 of the first half to 8:54, then from 7:18 to 2:45. In the second half, it was 10:51 to 7:43 without a Maryland basket.

That means that for 16 consecutive minutes out of 40, Maryland did not score from the field. In fact, 17 of the Terps’ 61 points in the game came from the free-throw line. And those 17, if you’ve seen Maryland from the line, were far from easy.

This level of futility is not easy to attain, yet the Terps seem to have it down to a science, Wednesday night going 2-for-22 on 3-point attempts and shooting 39% from the field.

“I thought we got some good open looks early and what’s kind of happened with us, against Rutgers and a little bit against Michigan State,” said head coach Kevin Willard. “It’s kind of just, we missed some good looks and it kind of just affected us the rest of the game.

“These guys have played hard all year. It’s just, it’s frustrating for them I think, at times, when we struggle offensively. And they’re battling. It’s just, it’s been a little bit of a battle all year.”

Willard could have used more than the Rutgers and Michigan State games as examples, as the Terps have had open looks all season and will likely have them the rest of the way. That’s how it works for a team that is ranked No. 339 out of 351 in the country in 3-point shooting.

In turn, teams collapse on center Julian Reese and, as Northwestern did Wednesday night, double him on the post, body up on him and, in turn, get him into foul trouble. It’s been no coincidence that Reese’s foul troubles this season have usually come on Maryland’s poorest shooting nights, because when shots don’t fall early, he receives a whole lot of company on the post.

And for whatever reason, calls just don’t seem to go Julian Reese’s way in this league, but, brother, they sure do seem to go against him, sometimes in a seemingly anticipatory way.

But it is what it is, which is to say very frustrating, because this team is a team that competes at the highest level against every team on its schedule. They fight to the end, as we saw again on Wednesday night, and because of the great defense it plays, Maryland is capable of beating every team in the Big Ten.

Yet because of its horrible shooting, Maryland is also capable of losing to every team in the Big Ten.

In February alone, the Terps have losses to Rutgers, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin that have come by two possessions or less.

“The fact that we’re losing games under five points,” said Jahmir Young, who scored 24 points. “We’ve let a few get away from us at home. We’ve been struggling at home, unlike last year, we’ve been playing a little bit better on the road as well. Just knowing how we could be where we should be then just looking at our record, it doesn’t fit our team or anything like that.”

While the sentiment is understood, the record does fit the team at this stage of the season, because it has relied so much on two freshmen, DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser Jr., two of the most highly-sought players in their high school class of a year ago, but now freshmen at the highest level of college basketball.

A lot has been put on both of them this year, and the returns have not been great, but that’s what usually happens when a team throws two freshmen in there together — they’re exposed as freshmen. That does seem to be turning in a more positive direction each week, though, as Kaiser has seemed much more comfortable with each game and Harris-Smith turned in likely his best performance Wednesday with 14 points and five rebounds.

Their future still seems promising at Maryland, provided they stay at Maryland, but this season is still at hand, as the Terps (15-14, 7-11) conclude their home season Sunday against Indiana and then play at Penn State the following Sunday, still with a chance to receive a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

Willard has been saying for the past week that he believes his team still has a run left in it. Well, now would be the time to do it, as these are games Maryland is capable of winning. But alas, they are also games Maryland is capable of losing.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT