Matt Charboneau and Bob Wojnowski of The News break down how Michigan State blew a seven-point lead with three minutes to play against Maryland. The Detroit News
East Lansing — "Stunned" would be a pretty good way to describe the Michigan State locker room on Saturday night.
"Shocked" works, too. Maybe even "dumbfounded."
That’s what happens when a team is up by seven at home with three minutes to play but fails to score another point and losses by seven.
It’s exactly what happened to Michigan State against No. 9 Maryland. On the verge of jumping right back into the Big Ten race after Aaron Henry scored to put the Spartans up, 60-53, the Terrapins went off by scoring the final 14 points. They hit three straight 3-pointers, three from senior guard Anthony Cowan, to silence a raucous Breslin Center.
Cowan nailed two late free throws to cap Maryland’s 67-60 victory to knock Michigan State almost completely out of the conference race with five games to play.
“It just happened really fast,” a dismayed Cassius Winston said afterward.
When Kyle Ahrens was asked what he would have said if someone told him they’d close the game that way, he answered quickly.
“I would have thought they were crazy, honestly,” the fifth-year senior said. “Give Cowan credit. He hit big-time shots. He's a big-time player and he hit them when he needed to. I mean, they went 4-for-4 and the last four shots were from 3. They did a great job at the end.”
It was a gut punch for the Spartans (17-9, 9-6 Big Ten) who were trying to build off Tuesday’s win at Illinois but instead have now lost two in a row at home for the first time since 2016. That it came on a day ESPN was in town for "College GameDay" and the Spartans were celebrating the 20th anniversary of their 2000 national championship only added to the sting of the loss.
“We just didn't play well enough,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We didn't make enough winning plays. They deserved to win the game and we deserved to lose the game.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talks about blowing a seven-point lead in the final minutes at home against Maryland. The Detroit News
Cowan finished with 24 points while Smith had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Maryland (21-4, 11-3 Big Ten). Xavier Tillman had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Michigan State while Winston scored 14 for the Spartans.
A quick start for the Spartans quickly shifted as Maryland went on an 8-0 run to seize momentum. The Terrapins soon pushed the lead to double digits, taking their biggest lead at 39-24 with 2:56 to play.
The Terps dominated the glass in the first half, grabbing 22 rebounds to 13 for the Spartans. Maryland also made five 3-pointers and went 10-for-11 from the free-throw line.
Michigan State could get little going offensively outside of 14 points from Tillman and nine from Winston. However, Winston sat out the final four minutes after committing his second foul as Maryland led, 39-31, at halftime.
“I’m very disappointed in our effort the first half,” Izzo said.
Michigan State picked up the defensive intensity in the second half and started to chip away at the Maryland lead. A Rocket Watts basket pulled MSU within 41-39 just more than five minutes into the half and the Spartans eventually pulled even on Ahrens’ 3-pointer from the corner, making it 51-51 with 7:25 to play. Winston then nailed a 3-pointer in transition to give the Spartans a 54-51 lead. Donta Scott answered with a driving bucket for the Terrapins before Tillman extended the lead to 56-53 with a pair of free throws.
The Spartans pushed the lead to 58-53 when Henry dished to Thomas Kithier for a layup at the end of the shot clock with 4:33 left in the game and extended it to seven after Henry scored off the glass.
Maryland got back-to-back 3-pointers from Smith and Cowan to pull within 60-59, then went up by two with another 3-pointer from Cowan with 1:18 to play, followed by his third with 22 seconds on the clock.
“We messed up on a couple of defensive coverages on the ball screens,” Tillman said. “I should have stayed with my man on the first one when Smith hit a 3 and they had a rescreen with Cowan and Smith on the second one. I should have switched it with Rocket so we wouldn't give up the easy 3s.”
Michigan State now heads to next week with only a trip to Nebraska on tap. After that, the Spartans close with Iowa at home, back-to-back road games with Maryland and Penn State and Ohio State at home.
But with another first-half effort like Saturday’s, there’s no telling how the season finishes.
“We're selfish, and if you can't get fired up for that with the crowd the way it was, with 'GameDay' here, then there is something wrong with your ticker,” Izzo said. “That performance in the first half, that was something wrong with our ticker, and the only guy who has to take the blame for that is me. I'll be more than happy to take it.
“But you can't lose a seven-point lead with three minutes left at home on blown assignments. That's not right.”