Terps, Cowan have “fun” in home victory over Iowa

Anthony Cowan has had plenty of big games and memorable moments in his four-year career at Maryland. But he may not have had a more complete performance than his game on Thursday. A career-high 31 points, to go with six assists and six rebounds helped push the No. No. 15 Terps over the top, beating No. 18 Iowa 82-72.

“That’s probably his best game,” said Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon. “The game is so much easier for him because he figured out how to play it. He got tired of us getting on him and showing him film. He just flipped.”

Similarly to their contest in Iowa City, it was the Hawkeyes who delivered the first blow. Iowa was clicking offensively, getting three-point makes from C.J. Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp. Wieskamp had previously lit the Terps up for 26 points in their last meeting. Wieskamp, who Turgon described as a “pro”, finished with 17 points but shot just 5-14 from the field.

Towards the end of the first stanza, the Terps tightened up defensively. Using their four-guard lineup of Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, and Darryl Morsell, Maryland’s speed was on full display, flying around the court to contest shooters and constantly pinching down on Luka Garza. The Hawkeyes endured a 1-9 stretch towards the end of the half and their lead evaporated. Cowan drained a pull-up jumper before the half to give Maryland a 36-32 lead.

The 31 point showing, which boosted Cowan to 12th all-time on the Maryland scoring list, is what will be remembered from the victory. But the passing ability should not go unnoted. Dishing out six assists, the senior constantly made his teammates better. With just over eight minutes remaining, Cowan spilt Iowa’s zone and found an open Ayala on the wing. Ayala caught the pass in rhythm and drained a three to give Maryland a 57-49 lead.

“I mean he finds you. He’s really smart with the ball in his hands. He’ll find you for open shots. After you hit one he knows who the hot hand is,” said Wiggins of his point guard. “It’s really fun being able to play with him.”

‘Fun’ was a theme for the Terps, who seemingly fed off the packed Xfinity Center crowd. Turgeon said he noticed Cowan having fun and that could be one of the reasons for his success, causing fits for the Hawkeyes. Iowa coach Fran McCafery called him “virtually impossible to keep in front of you.”

After the hot start, Iowa could not find the consistent rhythm they needed to make a comeback. Much of that can be attributed to the Terps defense on Garza. Iowa’s star big man entered the contest as the conference’s leading scorer at 23 points per game. While he still finished with 21, several of the buckets came when the game was out of reach.

“Just trying to stay between him and the basket and fight him on every post-up,” said Jalen Smith of his defense on Garza. “Just trying to front him at times that I could and staying out of foul trouble.”

Cowan is the main story, but Smith’s continued strong play is not to be forgotten. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week scored 18 points, snagged 14 rebounds and blocked five shots in what was another strong outing. 

The win bolstered Maryland to 7-3 in the league and gave the Terps their fourth consecutive conference win. Turgeon’s squad is now tied with Rutgers for third place and while the win streak is important, he feels the team can achieve more.

“Are we playing our best basketball? Probably,” said Turgeon. “But I just think there’s more in us. Our bench has got to play better.”

Getting bench production is going to be key as the Terps have a massive week ahead of them. Rutgers comes to College Park on Tuesday in what is suddenly a huge game and then Maryland will travel to Champaign to take on the conference leader, Illinois.

Only one game out of first place, Maryland can make a big splash next week if they keep their win streak alive. To do so, they will need more complete games out of Cowan. And if he keeps having “fun”, that seems more than attainable.