Freshman Darryl Morsell only made one 3-pointer in the Maryland Terrapins’ game against Penn State, but it was arguably the most important one the team made all night.
Maryland had fought back from deficits of one, two and three points in the second half, tying the game each time. The Terps had chipped away at Penn State’s six-point lead, but with less than six minutes left, time was dwindling.
With 4:36 left in the game, Morsell was alone in the corner when he took a shot from three-point range. His previous eight shots had missed their mark, but this one found the bottom of the net, tying the score 61-61.
That one shot ignited the Terps, and on the following possession, senior center Michal Cekovsky gave the Terps the lead with a vicious dunk over the Nittany Lions’ players.
That was the first time Maryland held a lead in the second half, and it was the last time it would trail for the rest of the game.
Freshman forward Bruno Fernando and sophomore guard Anthony Cowan led a surging Terps team that scored 17 points in the final five minutes to beat Penn State, 74-69.
“That’s a great win for us,” said Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon. “It’s tough, because we had to reinvent ourselves. Practices have been long. I thought we were a little mentally tired. But I thought we really attacked the rim in the second half.”
In Maryland’s (13-3, 2-1) first Big Ten conference game since Illinois on Dec. 1, the big question surrounding the game was how the team was going to look without forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender. But any doubt about the Terps’ offense should now be gone, as they team shot 45 percent from the field on 24-of-53 shooting.
Still, the team has to adjust with Jackson and Bender out for the rest of the season, so Turgeon put Fernando and senior center Michal Cekovsky into the starting lineup.
“I thought they both played well,” Turgeon said. “I thought Ceko was much better in the second half than he was in the first.”
Fernando got his first career double-double as a Terp, finishing the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and according to Fernando, he still hasn’t hit his stride.
“For me, I haven’t been at my best yet,” he said. “But I just keep working on my game, working with the team.”
Cowan, who finished with 18 points, played all 40 minutes and shot 5-of-14 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free throw line. Cowan was the only Maryland player to play the entire game, and Turgeon was happy with his performance.
“I can’t say enough about Anthony,” Turgeon said. “He was terrific. He guarded well. We couldn’t take him out. He was great. Anthony could play another 40 minutes right now.”
And the heavy load doesn’t seem to bother Cowan, either.
“Nah, I’m good,” said Cowan when asked if playing 40 minutes was a challenge. “I’m going to ice up, get a massage in my arm. I’ll be all right. I just have to get ready for Thursday.”
Maryland had to fight the entire game to hold off the Nittany Lions (11-5, 1-2), but it was also one of its best games all season. In addition to shooting 45 percent from the field, the Terps had 34 points in the paint, grabbed 38 rebounds and shot 68 percent on 34 attempts at the free throw line.
And in turnovers — a stat that has hampered Maryland all year — the team finished with five, well below its average of 18.
But, more importantly, after nearly a month of subpar performances against lesser opponents, this a quality win over a respectable opponent.
“Give them credit, they’re a good team,” Turgeon said. “They won at Iowa, and that’s a good team we beat today.”
Penn State had three players finish in double figures, including forward Mike Watkins, who led all scorers with 17 points. Guard Tony Carr had 16 points with three 3-pointers, and forward Lamar Stevens had 15 points on 53.8 percent shooting.
For the majority of the first half, Maryland was in the driver’s seat and had control of the game, with Cowan accounting for the team’s first eight points. A pair of free throws with just over seven minutes left in the first half put the Terps up 21-15 — tying its largest lead of the game.
But after being held scoreless for nearly six minutes, Penn State outscored Maryland 19-9 in the final six minutes of the first half to take a 34-30 halftime lead.
“I felt like we guarded really well until the last three minutes,” Turgeon said. “We didn’t end the half the right way.”
From that point on, Maryland played from behind. Despite the Terps’ attempts to take the lead throughout the second half, a three or free throws put the Nittany Lions back on top kept the lead out of the Terps’ reach for much of the second half.
It wasn’t until Morsell’s game-tying 3-pointer that Maryland took over the second half, and from the moment the shot went in, Turgeon knew the momentum had changed.
“I felt like when that went in, we were probably going to win the game,” he said.
“Give the kid credit, he hit a big one,” Penn State head coach Pat Chambers said of Morsell. “That was a big one in the corner. It takes a lot of guts to take that shot. He plays hard. He brings a lot of energy.”
Maryland now has seven consecutive victories — its longest winning streak of the year — and they couldn’t come at a better time, because its next game is against No. 1 Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Cekovsky said. “Michigan State is always a big game. I’ve been here four years, and it’s a great game every time. So, it’s going to be a great challenge.”
Tipoff for Maryland’s game against the Spartans will be at 7 p.m.
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