By Jack Rothenberg
Following two shaky outings against Northwestern and Penn State, the Maryland Terrapins got back in the win column by defeating the Michigan State Spartans 68-57 in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. This was the Terps’ first win in conference tournament play since the 2015-16 season. A dominant second half performance against a hot Spartans squad sealed the deal for the Terps, but in a stacked Big Ten the road to a title doesn’t get any easier.
The Terps have been able to start contests’ well most of the season, but Thursday morning Maryland couldn’t find their feet early. Michigan State went 8-11 from the field to start the game, compared to Maryland’s 1-7, which led to a 19-8 lead for the Spartans. After a Joey Hauser made a jumper with 10:24 left in the first half, Michigan State held their largest lead at 12.
Junior guard Eric Ayala, the Terps’ leading scorer, lifted Maryland when they needed it most. Trailing 23-11, Ayala went to work and got to the free throw line eight times in the last 8:37. Maryland was 15-16 from the charity stripe in the first half and Ayala led the way going 8-8.
While Maryland shot just 31 percent from the floor, they were able to climb back through free throws and stout defense in the late stages of the first half that held the Spartans to just three of their last 13 shots. The Terps ended the period on a 23-7 run, and Ayala capped it off with a three as time expired to push their lead to 34-30 heading into the break.
The Terps carried over their run into the second half scoring the first eight points extending the lead to 42-30. Junior guard Aaron Wiggins (19 points) played a huge role in the second half and helped Maryland gain and maintain the double-digit advantage. Wiggins had 12 points and four rebounds in the second period.
Maryland’s backbone over its late season surge has been defense, and they stepped up when it mattered most. The Spartans were red hot early, but ended the day shooting 41 percent from the floor and committing 18 turnovers. Those giveaways led to 26 points and a massive win for the Terps.
Maryland will now have to turn the page to No. 1 seed Michigan, who they will face at 11:30 Friday morning. Both regular season matchups resulted in Wolverine victories, but it’s March. The most unpredictable month of the year.
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