- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2017

Two weeks ago, surging Maryland was a point short against Purdue. A late foul led to Boilermakers free throws that knocked the Terrapins out of first place in the Big Ten.

Those were headier times. Maryland has lost five of seven since the slight defeat on Feb. 4. Saturday night’s home loss to Iowa produced the Terrapins’ first three-game losing streak since 2012. They have been knocked back to a tie for third in the conference — and just a game ahead of the teams tied for fifth — with two games to play in the regular season.

“We have a lot to play for, we’re still 15 games over .500 and there’s a lot left to play for, we got two games left,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Saturday. “Some teams go through this late in the year and hopefully they can turn it around. Hopefully we’re one of those teams.”

The losses have pushed Maryland, ranked as high as No. 17 this season, back in the polls and NCAA Tournament projections. They will almost certainly be out of the top 25 when the new Associated Press and USA Today polls come out Monday. CBS has Maryland as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. ESPN labels them a falling No. 7 seed.

Maryland’s recent swoon is akin to the bumpy close of last season. The Terrapins were 22-3 before a Feb. 13 home loss to Wisconsin. They went 3-5 to close the season — including a loss in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal — losing more in the final eight games than they had through the first 25. The downward trend jettisoned them to Spokane, Washington, to start the NCAA Tournament. At times thought to be as high as a No. 2 seed, Maryland dropped to a No. 5 seed. That meant running into a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16 instead of later in the tournament. That’s when Maryland’s season ended.

After losing junior center Michal Cekovsky for the season because of a fractured ankle Feb. 19, the Terrapins have been without their main rim protector and forced to adjust. Maryland will rely on forwards Ivan Bender (18 minutes against Iowa on Saturday), Damonte Dodd (17 minutes as the starter), and LG Gill (15 minutes) to play more and provide help in the paint.

But Bender and the other big men didn’t provide much help inside against the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s Tyler Cook dominated there, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds in the Hawkeyes’ 83-69 victory at the Xfinity Center. Iowa also outrebounded the Terrapins 38-33 and added 30 second-chance points.

Maryland didn’t just have interior problems against Iowa.

The Hawkeyes were 16-for-26 from behind the 3-point line Saturday night. Jordan Bohannon went 8-for-10 from three-point range leading to a career-high 24 points.

“We scored 69 points in our home gym, those are games you usually try to win,” forward Kevin Huerter said. “We didn’t think we were terrible defensively, it was definitely their night.”

Iowa’s zone defense forced Maryland into long possessions and difficult shots, which made it tough for the Terrapins to get back in the game after getting down early.

“I thought we were getting some good looks,” Turgeon said. “They did a good job guarding our cuts. When you get behind you kind of panic a bit, we probably didn’t offensive rebound as well as we should have against it.”

With a starting lineup that features just two upperclassmen, the Terrapins are a young team dealing with a rough stretch. Turgeon suggested that mental and physical toughness led to what became the best start in school history. They are searching to find that again before traveling to Rutgers then hosting perennial problem Michigan State to close the regular season this week.

“Our confidence is maybe down a little bit, but I still think we’re a hungry team,” Huerter said. “We have leaders like Melo [Trimble], Jared [Nickens], and Dion [Wiley]. They were telling us they went through a similar streak two years ago and they bounced back, so we’re going to try to do the same thing.”

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