COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The half-filled Xfinity Center rose to its feet as Maryland forward Jalen Smith very casually, and very subtly, walked by Isaiah Roby with eight seconds remaining.
Roby — who’d dunked over Maryland’s best player earlier in the game and was nursing a groin injury and calf cramps — bit on the fake. He walked with Smith to Maryland guard Eric Ayala near midcourt as the seconds ticked off, and Roby and James Palmer tried to trap what appeared to be a ball screen.
But Smith slipped to the top of the key and caught a bounce pass just before Thomas Allen could steal away the win. Smith, a five-star true freshman, took one dribble and, just over the fingertips of Isaac Copeland, threw up a floater that found the bottom of the net with 3.8 seconds left.
The Terps took a 74-72 lead. The Maryland bench spilled onto the court as “Seven Nation Army” played over the loudspeaker during Tim Miles’ timeout. Minutes later, a final play designed for Roby at the rim fell just short at the buzzer.
And for the second time this year, Nebraska let a Big Ten win on the road slip away.
“We’ve got two road games where we played well enough to win we just haven’t done enough,” Miles said in his postgame radio show. “We just need to figure out how to come out on top.”
Palmer scored 26 points on 19 shots and snagged seven rebounds, and as a team, Nebraska shot 41 percent from 3-point range. But it wasn’t enough against Maryland, which made 8 of 17 shots from 3 and outrebounded Nebraska 38-28.
Smith finished with 15 points and four rebounds, but it was sophomore Bruno Fernando who dominated Nebraska with 18 points and 17 rebounds in 34 minutes.
“You can’t give them both. You can’t give up offensive rebounds here and there, which is natural in rotation, but also you can’t also give up the 3s. You can’t do both,” Miles said.
With the loss, Nebraska falls to 11-3 on the season and 1-2 in Big Ten play. It will head to No. 25 Iowa on Sunday to play the Hawkeyes, who play Purdue on Thursday night.
Nebraska took a 39-35 lead into halftime thanks to 13 points from Palmer. But the game really heated up in the second half after Roby, who didn’t play in the Southwest Minnesota State game because of a groin injury, dunked over Fernando to spark an 8-0 Nebraska run. Roby finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes.
Maryland missed eight straight shots to open the door for Nebraska to break open a lead. Instead, up 47-39 with 15:30 left, the Huskers allowed Maryland back in it. The Terps went on a brisk 10-2 run in just two minutes to tie the game at 49-49.
“We had a chance to build (a lead), we didn’t do it,” Miles said.
Part of that came from Nebraska’s inability to make free throws while ahead. Nebraska was 15 for 23 from the foul line. NU also turned it over 10 times, six of which came in the second half.
Still, at the under-eight-minute timeout, it was tied at 60-60. Maryland guard Anthony Cowan, who finished with 19 points, hit two straight 3-pointers to give Maryland a 67-63 lead. Nebraska countered with a 3-pointer from Copeland and a transition layup from Allen to tie it back up at 67-67 with 4:17 left in the game.
After spending most of the game in man defense and not doubling Fernando and Smith on the block, Miles elected to start doubling down low and mixing in a 1-3-1 zone. That caused three turnovers in four possessions, helping put Nebraska ahead 71-70 with 2:13 left after a Palmer dunk.
But that zone would end up biting Nebraska in the final minutes.
On Maryland’s second-to-last possession, Nebraska could not block out Smith in the 1-3-1 zone as he snagged Maryland’s 14th offensive rebound and laid in the Terrapins’ 36th point in the paint and 14th second-chance point to put them up 72-71.
Nebraska ran a play for Palmer to get fouled in the final seconds, which he did, but he made one of two free throws. That tied the game at 72 with 22 seconds left.
Maryland didn’t call a timeout, so Nebraska stayed in the 1-3-1 zone on Maryland’s final possession.
Roby bit on the slipped screen, Allen wasn’t quite there for a steal and Smith scored.
“Just didn’t handle it well,” Miles said. “You look at this thing, we’ve got a good team, this is a great league, and we just need to keep fighting. And regardless of what goes on at Iowa, we’re gonna show up ready to battle, bounce back and find a way to get a win.”