The celebration started in the final minute, when Maryland men’s basketball had a large enough lead against Michigan to check its senior walk-ons into the game. Off came senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., and head coach Mark Turgeon lifted him off the ground with a bear hug four years in the making.
After a four-month grind of a regular season, the No. 9-ranked Terps had earned the chance to let loose.
Maryland clinched a share of the Big Ten title March 8 with an 83-70 home victory against Michigan. It’s the Terps’ first championship in their new conference and their first title since 2010. They finish the 2019-20 regular season 24-7 overall and 14-6 in a daunting Big Ten.
“Just because people say you’re gonna be good, doesn’t mean you’re gonna be good,” Turgeon said after the game. “You gotta go out and earn it. And our family went through ups and downs like anyone else does, and we continued to fight.”
Maryland led for 35:31 of game time, pulling ahead with a 14-2 run in the first half and keeping the Wolverines at a distance from there. Michigan made a second-half surge to pull within three, but the Terps had answers. They finished the afternoon shooting 28-of-50 from the field, a season-best 56 percent.
In his final home contest in College Park, Md., Cowan was on point in all facets of the game. He scored 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, chipping in eight assists and four rebounds. His running mate, sophomore big man Jalen Smith, contributed his usual double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
They got plenty of help in the form of sophomore guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins. Ayala tallied 19 points and seven rebounds while shooting 6-of-10 from the field. Wiggins was 6-of-8 (3-of-4 from distance) for 15 points of his own. It’s the first time all season four Terps have reached 15 points, showing what Maryland can be when its secondary options are rolling.
“When we’re hitting shots, when we’re able to drive and get to the basket, I think Stix [Smith] has a little bit more going, Anthony has a little bit more leeway,” Wiggins said. “So it takes pressure off other guys.”
Maryland’s offense operated as smoothly as it has all season. The Terps shot 8-of-20 on threes and 20-of-30 on twos. They committed just eight turnovers, four of which came in the opening minutes of the second half. And the defense eventually clamped down on Michigan, which was shooting 57.1 percent before missing 11 of its next 12 attempts.
David DeJulius notched 20 points off the bench for Michigan, while Franz Wagner scored 15 and Zavier Simpson added 13. The Wolverines shot 11-of-22 in the first half and were 20-of-35 with 11:14 remaining. DeJulius kept them close in the first half, while Wagner and Simpson keyed the near-comeback after halftime.
But as the shots stopped falling and the clock ticked down, it became clear this would be Maryland’s day. The Terps led 72-64 when Michigan started fouling, and they made enough shots to keep the Wolverines at a distance. Turgeon pulled the trigger substituted senior walk-ons Travis Valmon and Will Clark for Cowan and Smith with 26.7 seconds left, and Valmon dribbled out the clock as Cowan hugged seemingly everybody in sight.
“Me and Coach have been in this together,” Cowan said. “There’s been terrible stuff said about us all the time, and when he said [during the trophy presentation] that thousand-pound monkey was on his back, honestly I kind of felt the same way. But to go out and win [Maryland’s] first Big Ten championship is huge.”
Wisconsin will be the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament, and Maryland will be either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed depending on Michigan State’s result March 8. A shared title can feel like a consolation prize considering the Terps had a two-game lead entering last weekend, but everyone brushed off that notion when asked. After all, they’ll still raise a banner for this.
– Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando were both in the building for the first time since leaving Maryland for the pros in 2018 and 2019, respectively. They didn’t shy from the spotlight, as the duo spoke to reporters before the game and sat courtside all game. Fernando, a natural hype man, got the crowd going numerous times, most notably at the end of the “Maryland Pride” montage in the second half.
– Cowan made 6 of 6 free throws in the final minute of action as Michigan kept fouling in an effort to extend the game. In the process, he broke the program record for career free throws made, surpassing Keith Booth’s total of 576. Cowan, an 81 percent foul shooter over four years, is now at 579 made free throws entering the postseason.
– With four players filling up the scoresheet, Maryland didn’t need much from its extended bench. Joshua Tomaic logged five minutes in relief of Smith and scored two points in the first half, while Ricky Lindo played four minutes and Serrel Smith Jr. played two. In the second half, it was just the top six plus 1:04 of Tomaic before Clark and Valmon got their moment in the final seconds.
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