- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2017

Chris Collins held his hands out to calm his players. Forward Vic Law wandered over with a surprise fist bump during the call for a pause, connecting with a knock to his coach’s flat hand. Northwestern only needed to drain what remained of the clock. Conclusions had been made. The time mechanism just needed to confirm them.

A scorer’s table away, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon stood with his arms folded. He knew the Terrapins were not tough enough on a night so much was aligned in their favor. Travel was light. The crowd in Verizon Center was deliriously behind them. They were rested. A double-bye gave them almost a week to prepare. Northwestern had flown to Washington on Wednesday and played Thursday.

Those perceived advantages were fettered away in a 72-64 loss in the Big Ten Tournament that puts Maryland back on a bus and stuck waiting for Selection Sunday. The loss should do minimal damage to its seed, though could well add miles to next week’s flight. There was plenty to chew on from Friday before all of that.

“We just got to play better,” Turgeon said. “We just got to play better. We got to handle the stage better and play better.”

Maryland’s offensive droughts were severe and multifaceted. Out of timeouts, it didn’t just fail to score, it often failed to get a good shot. Kevin Huerter’s first-half effectiveness left him in the second. Interior options were nil. Northwestern, unthreatened elsewhere, dropped to jam Melo Trimble’s trademark drives. He finished with six turnovers.

“I mean, they just took us out of our offense,” Trimble said. “We wasn’t able to execute the way we executed at Northwestern.”

That was a thumping from three weeks ago. Maryland went to aged Welsh-Ryan Arena, piled up a 20-point lead and watched Trimble score 32 points. The Wildcats played without Scottie Lindsey and proper perspective that night. They had just defeated Wisconsin in Madison. Law felt at the time the team took their success for granted after beating the Badgers. The pursuit was distinctly different Friday night.

Surges abounded. Northwestern managed a 20-4 run in the first half. The Terrapins delivered an eight-point blitz to start the second half and to vault in front 44-34. The crowd roared. During a timeout, former Northwestern student Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose son, Charlie Hall, is a walk-on for Northwestern, was shown on the video board. She was booed. Immediately afterward, ESPN anchor and unabashed Maryland homer Scott Van Pelt was shown. A cheer went up that lifted him from his seat to hold his arms out to his flock.

Northwestern undid the party. Brian McIntosh’s 3-pointer calmed the Wildcats and cut Maryland’s lead to seven points. The shot produced a damn break that Maryland never recovered from.

A 20-2 run flipped the game back to Northwestern. The Wildcats expanded their lead to eight, then 10, stifling the Terrapins and their formerly fervent crowd.

“We started well, and then they were up eight or nine, and then we got the lead, went up 10, then they dominated from there,” Turgeon said.

Everything Northwestern does at this point is new. It had never won 23 games, like it has this season. It has never made it to the Big Ten Conference semifinals, like it did this week. The Wildcats have never made the NCAA Tournament, a six-decade drought that will end Sunday. This is the season that everything, finally, has worked for them.

“I don’t really think that we realize what we’re doing right now,” Lindsey said. “I think, you know, after the season, a couple years down the road, we’ll realize what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished.”

It was late, almost midnight, when Turgeon took his final question. He mentioned lack of toughness multiple times and appeared to already be replaying moments in his head as he sat at the press conference. His message now is one focused on rebooting. Turgeon told the Terrapins the next practice will be the first, in a way. Midweek, they will be on a plane for Milwaukee or Greenville or Salt Lake City and who knows?

“We’re starting a new season with a fresh attitude, see if we can play well in the NCAA Tournament,” Turgeon said.

They just did not Friday night, when everything was in their hand.

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