(AP/JEFF BARTL) — Maryland’s hot start had voters rethinking their position after picking it to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten before its first season in the conference.
Now the No. 17 Terrapins are trying to prove their recent struggles aren’t foreshadowing any bigger issues.
Maryland seeks a ninth straight home win Wednesday night against a Penn State team that’s been playing better of late.
Coach Mark Turgeon admitted his squad has exceeded even his own expectations, winning 14 of its first 15 after being picked to finish eighth in the league in the preseason.
Maryland (18-4, 6-3), however, hasn’t played as well over its last three.
The Terps fell 89-70 at then-No. 23 Indiana on Jan. 22, needed a Dez Wells putback with 1.4 seconds left to beat last-place Northwestern 68-67 on Jan. 25 at home and were routed 80-56 at Ohio State on Thursday. They shot a season-worst 30.5 percent and were outrebounded 51-32 against the Buckeyes.
“For some reason, we just weren’t any good. I hope it’s an aberration,” Turgeon said. “Good thing for us, we’ve got a bye coming up. We’ve got six days before our next game, so we’ve got a lot of time to get better.”
The Terps are the only Big Ten team with three players averaging at least 13.5 points. Wells averages exactly that many behind Jake Layman (14.1) and Melo Trimble (15.7).
Hopefully Trimble has put the six-day break to good use after the freshman guard missed all eight of his field-goal attempts and finished with three points against Ohio State after averaging 20.3 points in his previous three.
Wells (12) and Layman (10) also were held below their season averages.
“We just have to break down the film and remember what got us here,” Wells said. “We’ll have tough (practices), so I’m not worried about any of that.”
Maryland likely can’t afford to slip up against Penn State if it hopes to catch first-place Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions (14-8, 2-7) lost their first six conference games before beating Rutgers 79-51 on Jan. 24 and Minnesota 63-58 last Wednesday.
Penn State’s winning streak ended Saturday when it allowed a layup in the final seconds of a 60-58 loss at Illinois. It was 6-0 in games decided by five points or fewer in nonconference action but has lost three of four such contests in Big Ten play.
Two other defeats this season have come in overtime.
“It’s brutal,” coach Pat Chambers said. “It wears you down as a coach and it wears you down as a player.”
The bright spot for the Nittany Lions has been the play of senior D.J. Newbill, who finished with 20 points against Illinois. His average of 21.5 per game is the best among any player from a Power 5 conference and ranks fifth in the nation overall.
None of Newbill’s teammates average in double figures, though, and he could likely use some help against a Maryland team that ranks fourth in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense at 39.6. Freshman Shep Garner had a season-high 14 points Saturday, and Julian Moore added 10 after entering the contest averaging 1.1.
This will be the first meeting between the schools as conference foes. Maryland beat Penn State 62-39 in the last meeting Dec. 1, 2010, as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge..