With just under 12 minutes remaining in the first half, senior point guard Anthony Cowan made an uncharacteristic mistake when he fouled George Mason’s Jamal Hartwell on a three-point attempt. The foul was Cowan’s second of the half and he was sent to the bench.
But as soon as Cowan departed, the Terps offense sputtered. After an over two minute scoring drought, head coach Mark Turgeon had no choice but to summon his leader back into action.
“He told me ‘just don’t foul,’” the veteran Cowan said with a smile. “I just tried to play smarter. Tried to play with my feet rather than my hands.”
The Terps trailed by five when Cowan drove to the basket and converted an and-one. A few possessions later he drained a three from the top of the key and the game was tied. Maryland would finish the half on a 19-2 run and Cowan wouldn’t pick up another foul until late in the second half as Maryland would go on to win 86-63
It was another slow start for the Terps who seemingly could not get a stop early on. The Patriots found holes in the middle of the zone and Maryland could not contain them off the dribble in man-to-man. But they were vastly improved in the second half, holding George Mason to 26 percent shooting.
“Turg emphasized defense at halftime. I think they shot 46 percent in the first half and Turg didn’t like that,” said sophomore Aaron Wiggins. “He mentioned playing better defensively. Contesting shots, running them off the line and not allowing them to have near as good of a second half.
Turgeon went to several different lineups early and gave young guys like Makhel Mitchell and Hakim Hart a chance. But the bench units struggled to score. It was the veteran, four-guard lineup of Cowan, Wiggins, Eric Ayala,, Darryl Morsell, and Jalen Smith that broke the game open. Wiggins drained one of his three three-pointers as the clock ticked down to zero to end the first half, extending Maryland’s lead to 12.
Unlike the previous four games, Maryland couldn’t put the Patriots away to start the second half. The visitors cut the lead to single digits but it was Cowan who collected the troops and drove to the basket, earning himself two free throws. A few possessions later he’d get to the cup again. This time finishing the lay-up while pounding his chest, as he gave Maryland their biggest lead at 14.
“Everybody knows Ant is one of our main scorers so just him getting to the basket and being able to draw and-ones and hit threes is just a confidence boost for the whole team,” Smith said.
Cowan was not the only standout for the Terps on Friday. The sophomore group of Wiggins, Ayala and Smith combined for 35 points while scoring some timely buckets. Smith saw some double-teams, but showcased his passing ability dropping a few dimes.
Freshman Makhi Mitchell didn’t see the court in the first half, but was sensational in the second. His aggressiveness around the rim helped him get to the free-throw line 10 times. He finished with 12 points and eight rebounds in nine minutes.
“Makhi is a tremendous player. He’s one of our back-up bigs so if anybody ever gets in foul trouble, he knows he’s gonna be one of the main bigs to come in,” said Smith. “It’s a huge confidence boost for him.”
Maryland’s five game home stand is now complete as the Terps will head to Florida for the ESPN Orlando Invitational next week. Maryland will face Temple in the opening round at 11 a.m. on Thursday.
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