EVANSTON — The story writes itself at this point.
Northwestern (6-12, 1-7 Big Ten) let a 14-point halftime lead slip away as yet another disastrous second half doomed them in a 77-66 loss to No. 17 Maryland (15-4, 5-4) on Tuesday night.
Pat Spencer led NU with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds. He was one of three Wildcats to score in double figures. The Terrapins went 26-of-29 from the foul line to 11-of-13 for NU en route to picking up their first road win of the season.
Big man Jalen Smith led the charge for the Terps as his sheer size and strength took over down the stretch. He poured in 25 total points, 21 of which came in the second half. He shot an impressive 9-of-9 from the line as well.
Northwestern came out firing early in the game, hitting four of its first five shots and scoring the game’s first 10 points. Maryland, proclaimed a poor shooting team by its own head coach earlier this season, missed its first four attempts from the field before finally connecting from deep. NU led 12-3 at the first media timeout.
It was largely the sophomore show for the ‘Cats in the first half. Miller Kopp and Pete Nance combined for 20 of the team’s 40 first half points, but the latter picked up his third foul with four and a half minutes left in the first, sending him to the bench until the break.
Chris Collins’ team kept Maryland at arm’s length from the get go. The Terrapins, who came into the game winless on the road, looked sleepy in the first half. Maryland shot just 6-of-25 from the field in the first half — compared to 15-of-25 for NU — and nine made free throws were the only thing that kept Mark Turgeon’s squad relatively close.
Freshman guard Boo Buie, who hadn’t played since December 29 due to a lower body injury, made his return to the lineup off the bench. He gave NU a nice spark off the bench in the first twenty minutes with a three-pointer and a drawn charge on the defensive end.
Northwestern took a commanding 40-26 lead into the second half, but it wouldn’t last.
Maryland looked like a new team out of the locker room, starting the period with 10-3 run to cut the deficit to just seven.
NU turned the ball over five times in the first six minutes, and the Terps’ size and aggression amounted to nine Northwestern fouls in as many minutes. Despite a nearly four-minute stretch without making a basket, Maryland trailed by just five midway through the second half.
With 9:10 left to play, Anthony Cowan Jr. hit a three as part of a 16-2 run that gave Maryland its first lead of the game at 56-55. Ryan Young missed a layup on the ensuing NU possession and Smith jammed it home on the other end to put Maryland up three points at the under-8 timeout.
The Terrapins continued to feast at the charity stripe, and they were in the double bonus with just under six minutes left. NU cut the Maryland lead to 65-63 with 3:44 to go, but that was as close as it would get.
After a timeout, Smith came back in and scored seven points to give his team all the cushion it would need as the Wildcats’ second half free fall continued.
The Wildcats return to action Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena to face Ohio State.