For Terps, freshmen prove to be big shots
MARYLAND 86, OHIO STATE 77
Maryland guard Anthony Cowan Jr. arrived at Xfinity Center early before Saturday’s game against Ohio State, hoisting jumpers alone. Already driven with a maniacal work ethic, Cowan had pushed himself to spend more time in the gym shooting over the past week, wondering each time whether it would help him break out of a scoring slump.
On Thursday, he had a oneon-one talk with Coach Mark Turgeon, who told Cowan that he wanted two things over the final seven games of the regular season: He wanted the freshman to lead the Big Ten in assists and defending over that stretch. Less than 48 hours later, in an 86-77 win over the Buckeyes, Cowan responded to that directive with his most explosive offensive performance of the season. He tied a career high with 19 points and provided a crucial three-pointer with 41 seconds remaining, a dagger with the shot clock running low after the Buckeyes had pulled within five points.
He was complemented by fellow freshman Kevin Huerter, who finished with 18 points and also had hit a clutch three-pointer a minute earlier, which helped Maryland (21-4, 9-3 Big Ten) snap a two-game losing streak and recapture its lategame moxie just seven days after it blew a 12-point lead in a 73-72 loss to Purdue.
The urgency was palpable in Maryland’s performance Saturday, especially after the struggles in Tuesday’s 70-64 loss at Penn State. A three-game losing streak heading into next week’s road trips to Northwestern and Wisconsin simply would have
been disastrous for Turgeon’s team, and on a day in which legendary former coach Lefty Driesell had his banner raised in the rafters, energizing a sold-out crowd even before tip-off, Maryland played with passion from the onset.
“We looked like a team throughout the whole game,” Turgeon said.
Saturday will be remembered as Driesell’s day, and Cowan made sure it wasn’t soured. He took control as his backcourt mate, junior Melo Trimble, fell quiet offensively for long stretches and scored just 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting. That ended up being enough against the shorthanded Buckeyes (1511, 5-8).
“I think that’s good for him. If other guys are taking shots, it takes pressure off him and he doesn’t have to score as much,” Huerter said of Trimble.
Cowan had hit just 9 of 37 from the field in his previous five games, including 0 of 5 in Tuesday’s loss at Penn State, but he nailed his first three-pointer within the first three minutes of the game. A weight had come off his chest at that point. It was his first three since a win over Iowa on Jan. 19, and it helped spot Maryland an early 9-0 lead as Ohio State missed its first nine shots.
The Terrapins took command also because of the disparity in depth. Ohio State was without starting forward JaQuan Lyle and top reserve Keita Bates-Diop, both of whom didn’t make the trip because of family emergencies. That essentially cut the Buckeyes’ rotation to seven. Maryland held a 20-0 advantage in bench points in the first 20 minutes, which included reserve Jaylen Brantley scoring eight points in 73 seconds to make it a 12-point game with just under eight minutes remaining in the first half.
Maryland’s bench, which outscored the Buckeyes 33-0 on Saturday in total, had not contributed more than 19 points in any of its previous four games.
With Maryland’s frontcourt falling into foul trouble early in the second half — Damonte Dodd and Justin Jackson were both stranded on the bench with three fouls apiece — Ohio State made its charge. It cut Maryland’s lead to 56-50 with 13:05 remaining thanks to a pair of three-pointers from Marc Loving (24 points) and C.J. Jackson (13 points).
Both Cowan and Huerter seemed steeled by what had happened on this court earlier in conference play — not only in victories but also in crushing defeats to Nebraska and Purdue, both of which had rallied from double-digit deficits in the second half to win. That wasn’t going to happen Saturday — not even with Trimble remaining quiet and the frontcourt in foul trouble.
It helped that Ohio State’s two big men, Trevor Thompson and Micah Potter, both fouled out before the four-minute mark of the second half. But the Buckeyes still trimmed the lead to 77-72 on a pair of Loving threepointers with 2:43 left. Turgeon called a timeout. The play that Turgeon drew up broke down and left Huerter looking at a 25-footer with the shot clock running out. He didn’t hesitate and nailed it, smiling deviously at his bench with 2:09 remaining.
“I told him, you know your last three there was an over and back . . . he was so far out when he hit it,” Ohio State Coach Thad Matta said later of Huerter, who hit three of Maryland’s 12 threepointers.
After Ohio State pulled within five again on a three-pointer of its own, it was Cowan’s turn to be a baby-faced assassin. He too had to improvise his own threepointer with the shot clock running down with under a minute to play. But he had a renewed sense of confidence Saturday. He nailed the pull-up threepointer and later added two more free throws — he hit all 10 of his free throw attempts — as both he and his team briefly celebrated redemption after their most trying stretch of the season.
“I just want to make sure I can help my team,” said Cowan, who also had four assists. “And today I was able to make those shots.”
Kevin Huerter finished with 18 points for Maryland, including a three-pointer with 2:09 left.
A pregame ceremony to honor former Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell seemed to inspire the Terrapins, who jumped to a 9-0 lead.
Guard Anthony Cowan Jr. was one of two freshmen to make a clutch three-pointer in the final minutes of a victory over Ohio State.