COLLEGE PARK, Md. — When his potential game-tying 3-pointer missed the mark and the buzzer sounded, Rob Johnson collapsed to the floor and covered his eyes.
He pounded the court with one first, then rolled his body side-to-side in the immediacy of Indiana’s latest loss, a 75-72 defeat to Maryland on Tuesday at the XFINITY Center.
On a night when Indiana was once again burdened by the uneven play that has become prevalent during a stretch of five losses in their last eight games, an uplifting result remained just out of the Hoosiers’ reach.
So does further traction in the conference race, with Indiana (11-6, 1-3) still struggling to find its footing more than two weeks into the Big Ten season. A win against a young, but talented Terps (15-2, 3-1) was there to be had, but the result IU had traveled East searching for was not to be.
By late Tuesday night, the Hoosiers boarded their charter plane carrying another missed opportunity in tow.
“It came down to one or two plays more by them that really won it,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “We wouldn’t do anything to change it at the end of the game. We got a great look at the end.”
In a game that saw 15 lead changes and nine ties, OG Anunoby’s violent dunk with 10 seconds remaining got IU within one point of a late tie. Maryland guard Melo Trimble made both of his free throws in the ensuing one-and-one but Johnson’s last second 3-point attempt couldn’t find the mark.
After he picked himself off the floor, he and Indiana coach Tom Crean shared an extended embrace as the two teams began the postgame handshake line. It seemed a mixture of heartbreak and frustration, another chance for the Hoosiers to generate the mid-season momentum that has eluded them.
“We’ve just got to watch the film,” said James Blackmon Jr., who became the 50th player in program history to score 1,000 career points while posting a team-high 22. “There’s a couple plays that could’ve went either way. We need to find a way to make them come our way and just bounce back next game and make those corrections.”
Led by Blackmon, Indiana’s guards accounted for 55 points, while Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan and Anunoby accounted for merely 17.
“We went to them,” Crean said.
But finishing was tough, at times, against a Maryland team that made those timely plays, hit big shots and made nine blocks — including six by center Damonte Dodd. Trimble paced Maryland with 18 points, going 8-for-10 at the line. All told, Maryland made 18 of its 22 free throw attempts, while IU hit eight of its nine at the line.
Consider it another uneven performance all around for Indiana, which struggled to break down Maryland off the dribble early in the night, and at one point midway through the first half, had more turnovers (seven) than made field goals (six).
“We didn’t have a great game, by any stretch,” Crean said. “But we had a great battle.”
That Indiana trailed 39-38 at halftime was a small victory given its eight turnovers, eight Maryland blocks and the defensive lapses that continued to arise. Trimble gave the Terps the halftime advantage, splitting a screen and driving through a wide-open lane to the rim for a buzzer-beating layup.
Indiana, however, would answer.
A five-point swing, which saw a pull-up jumper by Morgan and a 3-pointer by Johnson, put the Hoosiers ahead 45-43 three minutes into the second period. IU led for the next 10 minutes until Trimble finished against contact, tying the game at 63-63 with 7:15 to play.
Two minutes later, an open 3 by Kevin Huerter gave the Terps a 66-63 lead. It came during the midst of a four-minute scoreless stretch by IU’s offense, a rough patch exacerbated by a missed Blackmon layup at point-blank range.
Blackmon atoned with four minutes remaining in regulation, pulling up for a 3 that put the Hoosiers back in front 68-66.
A 3-pointer by Huerter with 1:48 left put Maryland ahead 71-70, while the Hoosiers managed merely one field goal — Anunoby’s dunk — after Blackmon’s final three of the night. After his 3-pointer, Huerter grabbed a key defensive rebound and tossed a nearly-halfcourt outlet to Anthony Cowan, who laid it in and brought the announced crowd of 17,213 to their feet.
“Those are big plays,” Crean said.
And on Tuesday, Indiana simply didn’t have enough.