Anthony Cowan Jr. has been no stranger to big moments in his Maryland basketball career. But the senior point guard just one-upped all of them in East Lansing, Mich.
With the No. 9-ranked Terps trailing Michigan State 60-56 Feb. 15, Cowan slithered into the corner and buried a 3-pointer with 2:24 remaining, making it a one-point game. On Maryland’s very next possession, he pulled up late in the shot clock and buried another triple, giving the Terps a 62-60 lead. And after a defensive stop, he delivered the dagger from straight on, silencing a once-raucous Breslin Center crowd.
In all, the Terps closed the game on a 14-0 run, knocking off the Spartans 67-60 for their eighth consecutive win.
Maryland looked dominant early, leading Michigan State by as many as 15 points in the first half. But the Spartans made it a 39-31 game at halftime, then took the lead midway through the second period. Entering the final minutes, the Terps couldn’t buy a bucket and were leaking oil on defense. But sophomore center Jalen Smith took the lid off the basket with a triple from the elbow, then Cowan — who hadn’t yet scored in the second half — unleashed a barrage of epic proportions to propel his team to victory.
The senior finished with a game-high 24 points, while Smith recorded his eighth straight double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. As a team, the Terps were 19-of-53 (35.8 percent) from the floor and 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) from long range before those four straight triples changed everything.
It’s Maryland’s second signature road win in as many weekends. Here’s what stood out from this thriller:
1. The supporting cast pulled its weight early, but the stars bailed the Terps out.
As the Terps pulled ahead in the first half, this looked like it would be a signature game for sophomore Eric Ayala. After a season-high 16 points against Nebraska Feb. 11, Ayala started this contest 4-of-6 for nine early points. But he missed his final seven shots and didn’t score for the final 25:25 of game time.
Donta Scott went into halftime with seven points, while Aaron Wiggins had five at the break. They managed just two points each after halftime, and Darryl Morsell’s only point of the game came on a first-half free throw. The extended rotation combined for 11 minutes played and no shot attempts.
But Maryland had Cowan and Smith, and that was enough. The duo combined to score 24 of their team’s 28 second-half points (before Cowan’s eruption, Smith had 13 of Maryland’s 17).
2. Michigan State changed the game late in the first half.
Scott gave Maryland a 39-24 lead on an elbow three with 2:54 remaining in the opening period. At this point, the Terps held a 21-9 lead in rebounds, unheard of against a Michigan State team that’s been known for its physicality for decades.
From this point, the Spartans outrebounded Maryland 25-14. They took advantage of their offensive boards (five of Michigan State’s seven came after the intermission). They closed the first half on a 7-0 run and had Maryland’s lead down to two by the 14:22 mark.
The Terps narrowly won the rebounding margin overall (35-34), but Michigan State pulled ahead in second-chance points (7-2) and points in the paint (28-22). Junior Xavier Tillman gave Smith all he could handle, tallying 18 points and 11 rebounds.
3. Even Cowan disappeared for a while before delivering the heroics.
After scoring Maryland’s first eight points, Cowan retreated into the background. He finished the first half just 2-of-3 from the field, but thanks to two early triples and a 7-of-7 mark at the foul line, he entered the locker room with a game-high 13 points. But in the final minutes, he was still on that number.
After being guarded by senior Cassius Winston early, Cowan struggled against Spartans freshman Rocket Watts. He missed his first five shots of the second half, dropping him to 2-of-8 for the game. But in the decisive final minutes, Cowan was able to shake Watts on two ball-screens and gain enough space to make him pay. Just like that, a one-point deficit became a five-point lead.
4. Mark Turgeon experimented with Ricky Lindo as his backup center.
Ever since twin bigs Makhi and Makhel Mitchell transferred in December, Turgeon has struggled to find a reliable backup to Jalen Smith. Freshman Chol Marial isn’t quite up to speed after missing two years of action, while veteran Joshua Tomaic simply isn’t large or quick enough to counter the Big Ten’s best. Lindo might not be the option either, but his length makes it intriguing.
The sophomore logged nine minutes Feb. 15 after a DNP against Nebraska, and while his stats — no points, no shots, one rebound, three fouls — are emphatically unimpressive, Maryland was just minus-1 with Lindo on the floor. He’s no Smith, but the Terps hope he can emerge as a reliable seventh man.
5. Two straight weekends, two straight massive road wins.
At Illinois Feb. 7, the Terps shook off an early 14-point deficit to surge past the Fighting Illini and take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. They never trailed by more than seven in this game, but that deficit came with 3:08 remaining. It didn’t matter — they rallied once again.
Now the Terps are 21-4 overall and 11-3 in the Big Ten, a game ahead of surging Penn State for first place. They’ve won four straight on the road and eight straight overall. They’re a No. 2 seed in most NCAA Tournament bracket projections and still on the rise.
Three weeks remain in the regular season, and there’s a full month before Selection Sunday. But in these last eight days, Maryland has come away with its two most impressive wins in years.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox