When Big Ten bottom-feeder Northwestern gained some momentum in the second half of Tuesday night’s game against No. 7 Maryland, it felt like deja-vu for the Terps who almost fell to Nebraska at home last Tuesday.
But with just over four minutes remaining, the Terps relied on their two most consistent players. Anthony Cowan beat his defender off the dribble and threw a lob to Jalen Smith, who slammed it down to push Maryland’s lead to eight. The lead would not get any closer than that as the Terps would go on to win, 76-67.
“We played much better than we played last week. And we played with more poise. The communication was better between players and coaches,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We were much better tonight. Gotta give Northwestern a lot of credit to hang around, they played really well.”
The first half went a lot better for the Terps than when they went to Evanton and trailed 40-26. After Cowan, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, drained his first shot of the game, the Terps led 20-9.
But the Wildcats would fight back. A 13-5 run, spearheaded by six points from freshman guard Boo Buie brought Northwestern within a bucket. Maryland had an answer before the half though. Consecutive threes from Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala pushed Maryland’s lead back to double-digits. The half ended on an alley-oop slam from Morsell to Smith.
Smith was the story of the evening for the home team. The Baltimore native asserted his will early, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the first half alone. He’d finish with 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds to earn his ninth straight double-double. Smith could have had the first 20 point, 20 rebound game for Maryland since 1995, but Darryl Morsell took a rebound late in the game that Smith could have snagged.
“He was mad at me. I took one of his rebounds. He wanted 20 and 20 real bad,” Morsell said with a smirk. “I don’t really care, personally. He (will) be alright. Double-double. He good.”
Despite trailing big at the half, Chris Collins’ pesky Northwestern group hung around. Buie drained a midrange jumper for Northwestern and the lead had evaporated to five.
But the Terps continued to get key buckets from their top two scorers, Cowan and Smith. The duo combined for 20 of the Terps 39 second half points and never allowed the Wildcats to get within striking distance, like Nebraska had last tuesday.
On top of Smith’s career night, Cowan moved into eighth all-time on the Maryland scoring list passing Tom McMillen. Alongside Smith and Cowan, it was also a record-setting night for Darryl Morsell who finished with a career-high seven assists on his 21st birthday. The stats were a bonus for Morsell, whose favorite gift was a win.
“A lot of people told me try to get 21 points for my 21st, just a lot of different stuff. Trying to get a triple-double when I had five (points), five (rebounds), and five (assists) at halftime,” Morsell said. “I just wanted to win, that’s all I could ask for for my birthday.”
It’s only fitting that Cowan moved into eighth place on the all-time Maryland scoring list on a free throw. The senior has been getting to the line constantly as of late, averaging 9.5 attempts over his past six games. Cowan attributes some of that to a former teammate.
“I watched tape but some of that was first-handed. Obviously Melo (Trimble) he got to the free throw line a ton as well,” Cowan said. “Just practicing against him every day seeing the little tricks that he do. That’s something I always learned from him.”
With Maryland’s win and Penn State’s loss on Tuesday, the Terps now hold a two-game lead in the Big Ten. The remaining schedule is not easy for the Terps but a desired conference championship is within reach.
Maryland has a cushion, but they also need to avoid becoming lackadaisical down the stretch. The Terps will look to make it ten wins in a row on Sunday at Ohio State.
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