To call Maryland men’s basketball’s Jan. 21 game at Northwestern a “tale of two halves” might be the biggest understatement of the young decade.
For the first 20 minutes of action, the No. 17 Terps looked as atrocious as they have all season. They made just six of their 25 shots, going 5-of-17 on threes and a ghastly 1-of-8 on twos. And the defense that’s kept them in nearly every contest appeared almost absent, watching as the last-place Wildcats shot 15-of-25 and took a 40-26 lead into the locker room.
Then came an avalanche in the other direction. Maryland started the second half on a 10-3 run, then caught fire in the middle of the frame to capture its first lead of the night, then shut the door with a 12-1 run to secure their first road victory of the season — a 77-66 final buoyed by a 51-26 second half.
Everything revolved around Jalen Smith. Following a 1-of-6, four-point first half, the sophomore big took the game over. He amassed 21 points after the break, draining 6 of 7 field goals and 7 of 7 free throws. He grabbed nine rebounds in the frame to finish with 11. When the final buzzer sounded, Smith had his 10th double-double of the season, headlined by a career-high 25 points.
Aaron Wiggins pitched in perhaps a season-best performance. In his third straight game coming off the bench, the sophomore wing tallied 17 points on the strength of 5-of-9 shooting from distance. It’s been a frustrating campaign for Wiggins, who entered Jan. 21 hitting just 30.4 percent of his threes (down from 41.3 percent last season), but he’s been able to find a spark when his team needed it.
This game was a simultaneous showcase for everything Maryland can be — its best and its worst. The Terps fell behind, 10-0, and trailed by as many as 15 in the first half. They spent seemingly the entire half settling for threes and clanking them. Starters went 1-of-15 on field goals in the opening period, and the team still shot just 35.2 percent to Northwestern’s 50 percent for the game.
But the Terps’ aggressiveness made the difference. Once they started to get the ball inside, they made regular trips to the foul line. And when they got there, they capitalized, converting 26 of their 29 attempts, a season-best 89.7 percent. Northwestern, which led 30-12 in the paint, took just 13 free throws, making 11.
On defense, that aggressiveness translated to seven steals and 13 total takeaways, off of which Maryland notched 16 points. The Terps’ offense, meanwhile, committed a season-low six giveaways, including just one in the second half. That’s a plus-seven turnover margin, tied for Maryland’s best mark this season.
At the end of the night, it’s a road win — Maryland’s first of the season after four defeats. In a league that entered Jan. 21 with home teams, 42-7, in conference games, no road victories can be taken for granted. The Terps have one now, putting them at 5-3 in the Big Ten (currently tied for fourth). And after another away test Jan. 26 against Indiana, they’re back home for the next two.
Winning in Bloomington, Ind., won’t be easy. Maryland hasn’t walked out of Assembly Hall with a victory since joining the conference. But the win against Northwestern showed that, for better and worse, these Terps are capable of just about anything.
– Maryland’s 27 points off the bench are a season high, although it feels strange counting Wiggins’ 17 toward that total considering he played 33 minutes. But the other reserves came through when needed, scoring 10 of the Terps’ first 12 points after a dismal team start. Serrel Smith Jr. hit two triples for the first time since the season opener. Ricky Lindo drained his first three of the season. Joshua Tomaic hit 1 of 2 free throws to round out the scoring. This group wasn’t as much a part of the second-half surge, but this production is encouraging nonetheless.
– On the flip side, slumps continued for starting guards Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell. Each scored five points and looked more comfortable late, but they finished the game shooting a combined 1-of-10 from the floor. Ayala’s jumper has been off for a while — he’s 3-of-22 from distance since the calendar turned — while Morsell is 2-of-16 from the field in his last three contests. This, of course, probably can’t continue if Maryland wants to start some sort of winning streak.
– Anthony Cowan Jr. made up for another poor shooting performance (2-of-10 field goals, 1-of-6 threes) by connecting on 7-of-8 free throws, dishing out six assists and turning the ball over only once. Along the way, the senior moved into fifth on Maryland’s all-time assist list, passing John Lucas, and 13th on the scoring list, passing Melo Trimble.
– Chol Marial was a healthy scratch for the first time since making his Terps debut Dec. 29. The 7-foot-2 freshman saw 14 and eight minutes in his first two appearances, respectively, but hasn’t logged more than seven since. It’s clear that Turgeon doesn’t think Marial’s up to speed the way he needs to be, and it remains to be seen how that changes in the coming games. Smith was a superstar in 37 minutes Jan. 21, but Maryland can’t rely on that every time.
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