COLLEGE PARK — Franz Wagner played the first eight minutes of Sunday’s game against Maryland aggressively and efficiently.
The freshman scored five quick points, notched a steal and was leading the surging Wolverines. Then, the lanky forward was called for his second foul attempting to swat a ball down low. The minute that second whistle sounded, Wagner secured himself a comfy chair on the bench. His first half minutes were done.
From there, the Terrapins showed why they were the top dogs — or turtles, rather — en route to clinching a share of the Big Ten regular season title. Using a combination of outside shooting, offensive fluidity and a dislodging of the Wolverines’ defense, No. 9 Maryland (24-7 overall, 14-6 Big Ten) dismantled Michigan (19-12, 10-10), 83-70.
Following Wagner’s benching, the first half displayed Maryland’s ceiling and Michigan’s basement.
“I think that kind of changed the momentum of the game, to be honest,” Wagner said. “I thought we were there for those eight minutes … which is especially frustrating because I thought those two fouls came because I was there, I was ready to help. And we were flying around the way we wanted on defense and that was definitely frustrating, but guys told me to keep playing and keep my head up and get ready for the second half, and I think I did that.”
The Terrapins came as advertised. Open 3-pointers were drilled with ease, and the offense was firing off crowd-hyping play one right after the other. Maryland had its way with the Wolverines’ defensive miscues, and it showed on the scoreboard as well as the highlight reel.
The Terrapins’ offense was a steady steamroller, refusing to bow to even Michigan’s best efforts. Maryland racked up a cool 1.37 points per possession in the first half and accentuated the first 20 minutes with a variety of big plays.
For instance, late in the first half, following an ill-advised hook shot from senior guard Zavier Simpson, the Terrapins ran the ball in transition and found the cutting forward Jalen Smith, who hammered the ball home with authority. The place went nuts.
A few possessions later, Maryland guard Anthony Cowan scored on back-to-back possessions. Again, the crowd roared, former Terrapin star Bruno Fernando flexing on the sidelines, fired up by the senior guard’s performance.
The only offensive bright spot for the Wolverines came from sophomore guard David DeJulius, who put up 13 points in the first half and was the only one who seemed to remember how to shoot a basketball. He finished with a team-high 20 points in the strong shooting performance.
“Just doing all I can do,” DeJulius said. “Just being a leader, coming out there, being a playmaker, being aggressive out there on both ends of the floor, guarding, it’s just kind of doing everything this team needs. It’s just kind of coming in and having a positive plus-minus.”
Outside of DeJulius, it’s clear the offense hobbled early following Wagner’s fouls. With him on the bench, Michigan stagnated while Maryland beat its offensive drum steadily through the half.
“We were scrambling,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Franz, he’s a big part of our team. Not only on the defensive end but on the offensive end with his outside shooting, his length. The way he attacks the basket with force.
“As you’ve seen, in the beginning of the second half when Franz was in the game, he just started to give us that offensive punch that we needed. Unfortunately, you can’t control those types of situations in the game where you’re hoping that you had all hands on deck, guys not in foul trouble, but it happens. We truly missed him in the first half.”
The first-half exclamation point came from a buzzer beating 3-pointer from Smith whose lanky frame resembled an exclamation point itself standing at center court following the make. With the three, Smith made it a 41-28 lead at the break.
The second half continued along much of the same trajectory, albeit with Michigan finding a lot more life in between the orange circumference of the hoop — due in part to Wagner’s reappearance. The Wolverines began drilling shots — highlighted by Wagner and Simpson — and managed to pull the game within three.
The defense showed a bit more life as well, characterizing a much better half of basketball holistically for Michigan.
But the Wolverines just couldn’t get stops. Their defense continues to be a thorn in the side of the team, planting a firm roadblock on the path to big wins.
“They scored 83 points,” Wagner said. “It’s definitely a problem. Again, 3-point shots. Like I said last time, I don’t think we played bad defense all game, but I think we had two or three stretches where we let them get going, and that hurt us down the stretch.”
Despite pulling within three though, the Wolverines coughed up a few dead possessions giving Maryland the breathing room it needed to maintain a solid lead. From there, the Terrapins did nearly everything right to keep Michigan at arm’s length.
In the end, whether it be Wagner’s fouls or a struggling defense, all the Wolverines could do was stand and watch as Maryland celebrated its Big Ten title right in their faces.
Now, Michigan retreats to Ann Arbor to lick its wounds ahead of the impending tournament season and pray that Wagner doesn’t catch early fouls in the future.