Sometimes, when the dark parts of life sweep our hearts and minds, sports can provide a safe haven. The games can be a diversion from tragedy, and even at their most maddening and gut-wrenching moments, that’s a beautiful thing.
Maybe you, too, were watching Maryland men’s basketball’s Jan. 26 game at Indiana when you heard the news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash — heartbreaking, tragic news that’s unbelievable in the most literal sense. And maybe, just maybe, the Terps gave you something to smile about when you needed it.
Maryland trailed by six points with 68 seconds remaining in Bloomington, Ind., Jan. 26. But Jalen Smith got the Terps within four on a driving layup. Maryland’s full-court pressure forced a deflected pass, and Smith came away with the steal. Seconds later, Aaron Wiggins drained a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game. Indiana missed. Smith cemented his career performance with a go-ahead layup. And Indiana missed again, and Maryland escaped with a 77-76 thievery of a win.
For the second consecutive outing, the sophomore big man set a new career high in scoring. He followed a 25-point outburst at Northwestern with a 29-point, 11-rebound double-double. Smith knocked down 10 of his 14 shots, including 4 of 6 threes. He notched 16 of Maryland’s 32 second-half points. Of course he provided the game-winner. (The emotion of the moment got to him following the buzzer, as he had to be pulled off the court by Mark Turgeon after taunting Indiana fans. He’s since apologized on Twitter.)
This was a roller coaster of a game. Maryland came out firing, starting 9-of-14 from 3-point range and leading 38-24 after 13 minutes of play. The Terps took a 45-36 lead into halftime, with Indiana making just enough shots to stay in it. The Hoosiers then made 11 of their first 13 shots after the break, taking the lead quickly and stretching it to eight points multiple times. They led, 74-67, with 2:37 left and 76-70 before that miracle Maryland run.
The Terps, who entered this week 0-4 in true road games, now have two in a row. They move to 16-4 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten, solo third in the standings. They’re one of just two teams in the league with multiple road wins and no home losses in conference play, joining first-place Illinois.
It took the career day from Smith. It took 18 points from senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and 10 from junior Darryl Morsell, both of whom had been slumping of late. Wiggins chipped in eight points off the bench, including that last-minute triple. Eric Ayala dished out six assists alongside five points.
Maryland finished the day shooting 48.2 percent from the floor, its best rate since November, and 12-of-29 from distance, its second-most made threes all season. The Terps struggled at the foul line, converting just 11 of 18 times, but made just enough. They also set another season low for turnovers, committing just five.
The defense, which has locked down a wide range of opponents this season, was the weak spot. Indiana shot 52.6 percent from the floor and made 9 of 19 threes after entering Jan. 26 worst in the Big Ten from long range. But Maryland stiffened up down the stretch — Indiana went just 2-of-10 in the final six minutes.
It was a different game than any Maryland has played this season — hot shooting overshadowed a slower pace, and the Terps followed a hot first period with a shaky second half. But they came away with a win, and their next two chances will come in College Park, Md.
-Smith’s 3-point shooting has helped him blossom into a star these last few weeks. After a 4-of-6 outing against Indiana, he’s now 17-of-30 (56.7 percent) from long range in Big Ten play. He’s averaging 17.7 points and 9.4 rebounds in league games, and that doesn’t even reflect the strides he’s made on the defensive end. Maryland’s faced deficits in each of its last two contests and needed someone to step up. Smith has done just that, and then some.
-Morsell scored in double figures for the first time since Jan. 7 against Ohio State. In four games since, he had scored a total of just 18 points and was 5-of-25 from the floor. Even good looks around the rim simply weren’t going in, and he had some perplexing misses in this one as well. But he finished 4-of-7 from the field, knocked down a three and was his usual self on the defensive end.
-For the second straight game, head coach Mark Turgeon didn’t bring freshman center Chol Marial into the game, instead trotting out Joshua Tomaic. The redshirt junior logged just six minutes and was a minus-15. That simply can’t be the formula going forward.
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