Wisconsin's first half at Maryland on Tuesday night was one to forget. The Terrapins came to play, but the Badgers didn't do themselves any favors either.
For the first 20 minutes, the No. 14 Maryland (23-5, 11-4 Big Ten) handed the Badgers a shovel and let them dig their own hole. Settling for outside shots was the primary reason why the Badgers (25-3, 13-2) scored their fewest points in any half all season. The No. 5 team in the land hit only 1-of-11 three-pointers in the opening stanza and at multiple points fell behind by 11 points -- their largest deficit of the season.
In the end, the 31-20 halftime gap was too big to overcome on the road inside the boisterous Xfinity Center in College Park, Md. Aided by a game-high 26 points from senior Dez Wells, Maryland denied Wisconsin its chance for a share of the Big Ten title with a 59-53 win.
The victory moved the Terps into sole possession of second place in the Big Ten temporarily, only two games back of Wisconsin.
Backed by a unified, frenzied student section, the Terrapins clamped down on Wisconsin after the first three minutes to take control behind the stellar play of its backcourt. Wells had his jumper going early, allowing him to toy with various Badger defenders en route to 14-first half points.
Freshman point guard Melo Trimble impressed as well. He appeared to move effortlessly on the floor against the Badger defense. Trimble also beat Bronson Koenig for a demoralizing layup at the buzzer before halftime.
However, despite the lousy start, the Badgers came out of the locker room renewed. Wisconsin manned up, going inside early and often to Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky for easier buckets. A Josh Gasser triple cut the lead to 35-31 and moments later a Sam Dekker layup capped a 13-4 Badger run that spurred Maryland coach Mark Turgeon to call timeout.
Once again it was Wells who answered the bell for the Terrapins. The 6'5 wing answer right back and went on to score 10 of Maryland's next 16 points over the next eight minutes to withstand UW's only three-point barrage of the night.
Four consecutive treys by Dekker (twice), Hayes, and Bronson Koenig brought the Badgers knotted the game at 47-47 with 6:43 remaining. But the hot streak didn't last for long, as Wisconsin finished 6-for-22 (27.3%) behind the arc. Though the flurry brought the Badgers back, it also took them away from the strong inside play that they has started the half with.
Kaminsky missed both of his three-pointers and hit just 4-of-7 free throws, but still led UW with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field.
Maryland's unheralded stars were its big men. Though starting center Damonte Dodd picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, he and 7-0 freshman Michal Cekovsky kept Wisconsin -- and Kaminsky in particular -- from getting hands on potential offensive rebounds.
The Terps out-rebounded the Badgers 17-14 in the first half and held them to four offensive boards despite Wisconsin shooting less than 30 percent.
When Hayes left with his fourth foul with 5:50 left to play, Wisconsin lost its only defender who had been able to slow Wells. When Hayes returned, he could only stand by and watch as Wells dunked baseline on a defensive breakdown, lest he foul out -- which Hayes eventually did a few minutes later. Still his two free throws pulled the Badgers within three points with just under four minutes to play.
A great defensive stop set the table for Wisconsin, which got a key basket from Kaminsky to trickle in and make the score 55-52.
But Trimble, who finished with 16 points and four rebounds, iced the game for Maryland with a bucket and two out of three free throws.
Dekker added 14 points, nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks for Wisconsin.
In a game with few turnovers and seemingly fewer whistles, Wisconsin can look back at several missed opportunities. From a questionable traveling call on Duje Dukan offensive rebound with the game tied, to Dekker loses the ball on a breakway chance, to a wide-open Gasser layup altered by Wells late in a one-possession, the Badgers were very close to pulling out the victory.
The step up in competition from UW's previous 10 games was obvious, but not insurmountable. Instead, Maryland was the team who emerged with a resume-building win.
Wisconsin will try to regroup and take out a surging Michigan State team at home on Sunday afternoon.
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