Maryland first-half run dooms Michigan
College Park, Md. — With about seven minutes left in the first half, Michigan coach John Beilein was faced with a familiar first-half quandary: sit a player with two fouls or keep him in the game.
As has been Beilein's custom, he chose former — and Zak Irvin went to the bench, with UM leading, 19-18. The Wolverines were outscored, 12-2, in the remainder of the first half.
Michigan never recovered and fell to No. 14 Maryland, 66-56, on Saturday afternoon before 17,950 at Xfinity Center.
It's the sixth loss in the last eight games for the Wolverines (14-14, 7-9 Big Ten), which missed their last chance to get a road win over a ranked team. They finish the regular season at Northwestern on Tuesday and against Rutgers next Saturday. They'll likely need to win at least one of those and another in the Big Ten Tournament to bolster their resume for an NIT bid.
Spike Albrecht and Irvin had 15 points each and freshman Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added seven points and a career-best seven rebounds for Michigan.
"I'm proud of our kids but it's the same old story," Beilein said. "We're working hard, but we're not quite there to beat a team like Maryland, especially on the road."
Maryland (24-5, 12-4) struggled early, with a 1-for-8 start from the field and UM moved ahead, 11-9, after Abdur-Rahkman picked up his second foul with 11:59 left and Kam Chatman got a basket.
Irvin hit a jumper for a 19-18 lead but when he got his second foul after a charging call with 6:55 left, Beilein was forced to make a decision and decided to put Irvin on the bench rather than risk a third foul in the first half.
In the final five minutes of the half, Maryland went on a 12-0 run with a back-to-back triples from Jake Layman (10 points) and Richaud Pack, a jumper from Dez Wells (13 points) and a free throw and triple by Melo Trimble (19 points).
"The last three minutes of the first half were really the key. That was the big difference — that 9-0 run they went on, we couldn't answer that," Beilein said. "We could have on a couple occasions. We missed some shots and they made some."
Beilein has been steadfast in his practice of benching players for the remainder of the first half after they get their second foul. He famously did it in the 2013 national championship game, when Trey Burke got two fouls — and Albrecht ignited for 17 first-half points.
But Beilein indicated that situations dictate whether he'd choose to risk the third foul — and with a one-point lead at the time, he didn't think it was necessary.
"If you get a second foul and you're down by 10 in the first half and it goes to 15, then you put him in," Beilein explained. "In the last couple minutes, you don't care which way it's going to go. Nobody plays a guy with two fouls at the end. Then you're going to lose him the whole second half.
"The last three minutes were key but that's not going to make a big difference, subbing at that time, anyhow."
Maryland led, 30-21, at halftime, but Michigan made a push to come back. In the opening two minutes of the second half, Irvin hit a triple and Abdur-Rahkman added a jumper, cutting the lead to four.
"I tried to (get back in) when I first got them," Irvin said. "I said, 'Coach, I'll be smart.' But he didn't want me to go back in. I trust in my coaches and I knew they made the smart decision."
Abdur-Rahkman added a highlight-reel tomahawk dunk to make it 34-30, but Jared Nicks (nine points) hit the second of his three 3-pointers to push the deficit back to seven.
Irvin was fouled on a 3-point attempt and hit all three free throws and Albrecht followed with a triple to cut it to 43-40 with 8:40 left. But the Terrapins got an offensive rebound and a second-chance 3-pointer by Trimble — who scored nine of their next 11 points during a three-minute stretch — and helped put the game away.
"In the first half and second half, we had a few-minute stretches where we struggled and things got away from us," Albrecht said. "I can't pinpoint what it was, but those last two or three minutes in that first half really hurt us. We came out strong in the second half; we just weren't able to close it."
Irvin scored 13 and Albrecht 10 in the second half, but the Wolverines didn't get the stops they needed after halftime, as Maryland shot 50 percent (11-of-22) from the field.