MILWAUKEE - They trailed in each half of regulation play by double-digit margins. They seemed on the verge of caving in to Wisconsin's three-point barrage on more than one occasion. And only the strong play of their bench helped them survive to play an extra period.
But for the Maryland Terrapins, a resilient performance for 40 minutes was merely a prelude to a bitter, 78-75 loss in overtime to the Badgers before 7,521 at the Bradley Center last night.
Maryland fell to its first 1-3 start - albeit with a tough schedule against three ranked teams - since coach Gary Williams took over in College Park in 1989.
The No. 13 Terps fell because they lost their composure in overtime, and their big-time players shrunk in the face of a Wisconsin team that showed the mettle that brought the Badgers to the Final Four last year. But after watching Maryland play sluggishly in back-to-back losses last week, then fall behind last night, 21-10, Williams found some consolation in defeat.
"I thought we competed a lot better than we did in Hawaii against a good Wisconsin team that had a lot of experience and got to the Final Four last year," Williams said.
"This is a big game for us, even though we lost it. We know now that we can win these games if we go with the same type of effort we showed after the first six or seven minutes. I was very disappointed with the way we started the game."
The starters took turns disappearing.
Junior center Lonny Baxter, coming off a solid showing in the Maui Invitational, scored 13 points but grabbed only one rebound. Junior guard Juan Dixon scored 12 points and led the team with seven rebounds, but he scored just one point after he had sparked Maryland to a 37-34 halftime lead. Forward Danny Miller was scoreless in 14 invisible minutes. Senior forward Terence Morris went 2-for-9 from the floor and finished with nine points.
Sophomore point guard Steve Blake added 12 points and seven assists, but he paled in comparison to Wisconsin point guard Mike Kelley, who controlled the game despite taking only three shots and scoring five points. Kelley recorded a game-high 12 assists, three steals, blocked a critical shot by Dixon in overtime and committed just one turnover while playing all 45 minutes.
Wisconsin, despite missing starting forward Maurice Linton - he is sitting out an NCAA-imposed, eight-game suspension - found ways to win. Forward Charlie Willis made his first start of the season and scored 15 points. Mark Vershaw, the man he replaced, came off the bench to score 14.
Guard Kirk Penney (18 points) led the No. 23 Badgers (2-1), who pounded away successfully at Maryland's well-designed zone defense to hit 10 of 30 three-point shots.
Only a tremendous effort by the Terps' bench put them in position to win. After surrendering 11 unanswered points to fall behind, 50-42, with 10:01 left to play, the Terps got 15 straight points from their reserves to take a 57-56 lead with 2:50 to go. Junior Byron Mouton, who scored a team-high 14 points, was in the middle of that outburst.
And when Blake hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 62 with 36.6 seconds left and send the contest in overtime, the Terps seemed revived.
But the Badgers scored the first five points of the extra period to take control, while Maryland's first three overtime possessions resulted in two missed foul shots by Baxter and two turnovers.
Penney started the overtime by hitting a three-pointer, before Kelley scored his first points of the night by hitting a 14-footer to give Wisconsin a 67-62 lead.
The Badgers never led by fewer than four the rest of the way, as Willis followed a missed 25-footer by Morris by making two free throws to extend Wisconsin's lead to 69-63 with 1:20 to go.
"I know we have a tough schedule, but to start the season 1-3, I never thought about anything like that," Morris said.
"It's bad," said Dixon, referring to the 1-3 start. "I didn't expect this. We're still a good team. We still have a chance to be a great team. Things looked a lot better than last week. We had the effort. Wisconsin hit a lot of big shots, a lot of threes. But our effort was there."
The Terps head into this weekend's BB&T Classic at the MCI Center, where they face Michigan on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Although the Terps need to win their next tournament just to get back to the .500 mark, Williams sounded determined not to push the panic button.
"You've got to keep things in perspective. We played Illinois and Dayton and now Wisconsin. We could be 4-0 if I had scheduled differently," he said. "We didn't play well in Hawaii, but I thought we played well tonight. We got close to where we were last year."
MARYLAND-Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Morris 2-9 4-6 9, Baxter 5-8 3-7 13, Dixon 5-13 2-4 12, Blake 3-8 4-4 12, Mouton 6-9 2-2 14, Nicholas 1-3 5-6 8, Mardesich 1-1 0-0 2, Holden 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 25-56 20-29 75. WISCONSIN-Kowske 2-8 2-2 6, Wills 4-6 5-6 15, Penney 6-15 2-4 18, Kelley 1-3 3-4 5, Boone 3-9 4-6 11, Bower 3-7 0-0 9, Mader 0-2 0-0 0, Vershaw 3-8 8-8 14. Totals 22-58 24-30 78.
Halftime-Maryland, 37-34. End of regulation-62-62. 3-point goals-Maryland 5-14 (Blake 2-4, Holden 1-1, Nicholas 1-2, Morris 1-4, Miller 0-1, Dixon 0-1, Mouton 0-1), Wisconsin 10-30 (Penney 4-11, Bower 3-7, Wills 2-2, Boone 1-7, Vershaw 0-1, Kelley 0-2). Fouled out-Blake. Rebounds-Maryland 33 (Dixon 7), Wisconsin 37 (Kowske, Kelley 6). Assists-Maryland 12 (Blake 7), Wisconsin 18 (Kelley 12). Total fouls-Maryland 22, Wisconsin 22. A-7,521.