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Rapid Reaction: Wildcats blow another halftime lead, lose 71-64 to Maryland

With the Terrapins completing the season sweep at Allstate, Northwestern’s NIT hopes are all but finished.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Without Bryant McIntosh and Jordan Ash for the second straight game, Northwestern blew another halftime lead at home.

This time, Northwestern (15-14) led 37-30 at the break and went up 11 early in the second half. But despite Derek Pardon’s 12 second-half points, more offensive struggles and inconsistency doomed the Wildcats to their third consecutive loss, and all but ended their fledgling NIT hopes. It wasn’t as bad as the Michigan State catastrophe, but it was still pretty bad. Kevin Huerter, who put up 20 in Maryland’s first meeting with the Wildcats, paced the Terrapins (19-11) again with 18, while Wiley and Cowan added 13 each.

Offensively, the Wildcats began the game with typical inconsistency. They began the game on fire from beyond the arc, with Law, Lindsey, and Falzon all hitting threes, but immediately shut down after that, missing their next seven shots and failing to score for six and a half minutes. But thanks in large part to Anthony Gaines and his five first half assists, Northwestern closed the half strong. Six different Wildcats hit threes, and they led 37-30 after the opening 20 minutes.

The other side of the ball followed a similar hot/cold pattern. As Northwestern shifted to a matchup zone early on, Maryland stormed their way to a 15-9 lead on an 11-0 run featuring three Michal Cekovsky dunks. After the Wildcats went back to a man look, their defense tightened up, forcing Maryland into 5 turnovers and just 11 points over the final 10 minutes of the half.

Northwestern started out hot after the break. A pair of Pardon free throws were followed by a Law three to open up an 11 point lead (Northwestern’s largest of the game), but Maryland ended the nascent run with their fourth alley-oop dunk of the game, this one via Darryl Morsell.

Pardon attempted just one field goal in the first half, but his 8 early points in the second frame helped Northwestern keep pace with a Maryland offense that was suddenly scoring just about every time down the floor. After the early Wildcat spurt, Maryland, led by Kevin Huerter, steadily closed the gap until the Wildcat lead was down to just 52-49 with 11 minutes remaining.

It didn’t get better from there. After a pair of Skelly free throws, Northwestern turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions, and the Terrapins took advantage with a 6-0 run that gave them the lead for the first time since the opening half. The Wildcats escaped the disaster when Anthony Cowan dove into the knee of Vic Law.

The defense sank back into a zone but that didn’t improve things much. Two more turnovers eventually led to a Huerter three, staking Maryland to a 4 point lead. But Dererk Pardon continued his impressive second half with one of his patented face cuts for a dunk, and at the under-8 timeout the Wildcats had the ball down just 2.

Northwestern’s offense stopped functioning once again. Gavin Skelly continued his offensive struggles (he finished the game 1-9 from the field) and the Wildcats fell victim to two offensive foul calls. Meanwhile, Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando converted tough looks on the other hand, before Dion Wiley capped off a massive 34-14 Terrapins run with a three.

With time working against them, the Wildcats finally got the ball back into Pardon, the only Northwestern player who made more than one field goal in the first 18 minutes of the second half. The big man converted a layup to cut Maryland’s lead to 7, but Northwestern’s offensive struggles continued to plague them.

Four scoreless possessions later, Bruno Fernando missed consecutive free throws to open the door, and for a second it looked like Isiah Brown would walk right through it. The seldom-played Brown converted a layup for Northwestern’s first non-Pardon points in 8:30 and followed it up with a steal, but Scottie Lindsey committed the Wildcats’ ninth turnover in the second half. Brown ended up with 11 points in limited action.

From there, Northwestern attempted to elongate the game. Maryland, however, made their free throws, and closed out the victory.

The Wildcats will return to action Thursday against Wisconsin in a game with some seeding implications, but other than that the final games of the regular season are all but meaningless now. All that matters is the Big Ten Tournament.