With under 25 seconds remaining No. 9 Maryland held a comfortable lead over No. 25 Michigan. Comfortable enough that head coach Mark Turgeon could remove senior Anthony Cowan from the game. As Cowan exited his finale at the Xfinity Center, he was greeted by a round of applause.
But, he was also greeted by Turgeon. The coach wrapped his arms around the point guard, lifted him off the floor and let out a scream of joy as the big weight had seemingly vanished off the backs of both the coach and the player. The intense Cowan couldn’t help but smile too as the Terps won 83-70, clinching a share of the Big Ten title.
The embrace happened suddenly, but this was a moment that had been building for years. After his sophomore season, Cowan and Turgeon did not see eye-to-eye as Turgeon wanted more out of his point guard. The two had a “sit-down” to talk about it.
The hiring of assistant coaches Matt Brady and Deandre Haynes, two former college point guards, helped Cowan shift his approach and turn him into the point guard Turgeon desired. Two years later, Turgeon teared up at the thought of taking Cowan out of the game to a standing ovation on his senior day. And on Sunday, that dream became a reality.
“Yeah that hug was pretty cool,” Turgeon said with a smile.
After the senior day ceremony the Terps came out locked in, playing one of their best first halves of the season. Michigan hung around early, but the Terps used a 10-2 run to push the lead to eight.
Behind a pair of three-pointers by Michigan sophomore guard David DeJulius, the Wolverines clawed back to make it a five-point game. But Maryland was more than equipped to handle adversity. The home team countered with an 8-0 run, capped by an Aaron Wiggins transition slam off a Jalen Smith feed.
Every time Michigan gained some momentum, Maryland had a response. DeJulius was fouled shooting a three with only a few seconds left in the half, and he converted each one cutting the deficit to 10. Subsequently, Maryland inbounded the ball to Smith who took three dribbles and fired a deep three over Zavier Simpson. The shot rolled in as time expired, giving the Terps momentum heading into the half.
“The play wasn’t initially for me to do that but I decided to take it in my hands,” Smith said. “We shoot a lot of half-court shots in practice…but hey it came through in the game.”
In the second half, both offenses showed their prowess. Whenever Maryland’s lead ballooned up to double-digits, Michigan would counter with a bucket. An Eric Ayala corner trey extended the lead to 11, but Michigan’s Franz Wagner immediately converted an and-one to bring the lead down to eight.
But the Terps offense was too potent for the Wolverines. They finished the day shooting 56 percent, which marked a season-high. The 83 points are their most since January.
At the beginning of the season, Maryland was seen as a balanced offensive team that could have multiple players score in double figures. However, they have been more of a two-man show as of late with Ayala and Wiggins struggling to find their rhythm. On Sunday the duo played as they had in November, combining for 34 points on 6-8 shooting from three.
“He told me the other day, he said ‘I’m gonna get going’ and I trusted him,” Wiggins said of Ayala. “Today he stepped up really big for us.”
Cowan, in his final game at the Xfinity Center, was his usual productive self. The senior didn’t make a three but scored 20 points while dishing out eight assists. Cowan’s growth as a passer over his four-year career was evident in his home finale.
The win allowed the Terps to clinch a share of the Big Ten title, Maryland’s first regular season conference title since they won the ACC in 2010. Turgeon’s team was in the driver’s seat to win the league, but slipped down the stretch losing three of four.
On Sunday, those woes were temporarily forgotten as the team and fanbase celebrated as nets were being cut. For the first time all season, the players seemed to take a sigh of relief as they claimed a share of the title. But the group knows there is more to be done.
“We got to celebrate this and get right back to work tomorrow and people in the locker room understand that,” Cowan said. “We got a lot more work to do.”
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