With his team trailing by three, head coach Mark Turgeon took a timeout to compose his group and diagram a play. But when the play broke down, it was senior point guard Anthony Cowan who stepped up and drained a deep three pointer from the left wing to tie the game at 58 with 19 seconds remaining.
“We ran it wrong. The backside, we ran wrong,” said Turgeon of the broken play. “The first part they switched it, the ball-screen pop. We almost turned it over. So then we’re out of the play because your timing is off. Anthony just goes and gets it and shoots it.”
The following possession, Illinois (6-3) put the ball in the hands of junior Andres Feliz. Feliz drove to his right and had his dribble stolen by none other than Cowan. In a fight for a loose ball, it was Cowan who got his hands on it and he was instantly fouled with 2.1 seconds remaining. The veteran calmly stepped up to the free throw line. Money. After a timeout, the senior purposely missed the second attempt and the Illini couldn’t even get a shot off. Maryland’s first lead of the second half wound up being the final score, 59-58.
“I want the ball in my hands late. But we gotta execute better,” said Cowan. “I was the one that messed the play up. Luckily, I was able to get it back, (and) get a good look at the basket.”
Maryland (10-0) has grown accustomed to slow starts this season, but this one felt different. The Terps inability to make an outside shot prevented them from making the late first half push they’ve made so frequently. When the clock showed all zeroes the Terps had their largest deficit of the season, trailing 39-25.
Cowan played all 20 minutes of the first half but was held to five points. As a team, they were 10-33 from the field. A large part of that was the interior defense of Illinois bigs Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvilli. Their ability to go straight up and alter shots created adversity for the Terps.
“It was a great battle inside. It our first really big test at making sure our bigs are ready for the whole Big Ten,” said Jalen Smith. “I believe we held our own in there.”
Maryland was knocking on the door of a comeback the whole second half. By the under eight media timeout, the Terps had trimmed the lead to five. The closest it had been since the early first half. But then Illini sophomore Ayo Dosunmu hit a runner just outside the paint to bring the lead back up to seven. On the next possession, Eric Ayala missed a three pointer and Illini junior Trent Frazier was fouled right away. Frazier drained two free throws and the lead was back up to nine with 4:33 to play.
But the Illini offense sputtered down the stretch. Dosunmu’s bucket with 5:05 remaining would be the team’s last field goal. The typically fast moving group tried to slow down, while playing with the lead. But their lack of halfcourt offense, combined with Maryland’s stellar defense allowed the Terps to comeback.
“Their defense. They got one of the best defenders in the country. They’ve got 6’6 wings,” said Underwood. “Hard fought game. Grind it out game. Not everybody is going to look pretty every single night.
Cowan’s heroic effort (20 points) pushed Maryland over the top. But there were many gaps in the team’s play that may have neutral observers wondering if this team is truly deserving of that number three ranking. They managed only two points from the bench and shot 33 percent in total. Maryland led for just 27 seconds of the game. Cowan’s three pointer was massive, but it masked some of the issues facing this group.
“We were really selfish. Overdribbling, taking some bad shots, playing hero ball, trying to be the guy that gets us going,” said Turgeon. “We got a ways to go. We got a long way to go offensively. It’s nice when you can win a miracle win.”
Maryland will get another chance to prove their elite status on Tuesday when they travel to Penn State for their first road game of the season. The Nittany Lions drubbed the Terps 78-61 the last year in State College. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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