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Anthony Cowan Jr.’s heroics lead No. 3 Maryland men’s basketball past Illinois, 59-58

The Terps pulled off a stunning victory on the back of the senior point guard.

Anthony Cowan Jr, Illinois, Maryland basketball Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

With No. 3 Maryland men’s basketball trailing Illinois 58-55 with 20.6 seconds remaining, Anthony Cowan Jr. took one dribble and launched a three-point attempt from the “Gary Williams Court” decal.

The senior made the shot to tie the game at 58 and ran back down on defense, where he was fouled while picking up a crucial steal. Cowan was sent to the free throw line and made one shot, which was all that was needed to push off the Terps’ upset scare in a 59-58 victory.

“My back was towards it so I couldn’t really see it,” Jalen Smith said. “I knew the crowd erupted, and I heard the net, and I was like ‘OK, Ant shot a three.

“[Cowan] is just an animal .. He’s pretty much that leader that we needed.”

With the win, Maryland goes to 10-0 for the first time since the 1998-99 season.

Cowan capped off an 11-1 run in the last 4:11 that began with Smith catching a pass at the top of the key and making his second three pointer of the day. The score sparked a late 7-0 from the Terps that cut Illinois’ once 14-point lead to only two.

“Jalen Smith steps out and hits the three, give him a lot of credit,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “He made four on the year [going into tonight]. You play percentages and he made a tough shot.”

The Terps struggled to put the ball in the basket in the first half, shooting 30.3 percent from the field and scoring a season-low 25 points at halftime.

Illinois shot 47 percent from the field at halftime as it received a large boost from guard Andres Feliz, who had 10 of the Fighting Illini’s 13 bench points through 20 minutes. They led 39-25 and were on the verge of picking up their first top-5 road victory since defeating No. 3 Indiana in March 1989.

Nearly eight minutes into the matchup, the Terps had nearly forced the Fighting Illini into a shot-clock violation until freshman center Kofi Cockburn chased down a rebound and Feliz for an elbow jump shot. The bucket gave the Fighting Illini a 16-5 advantage and forced head coach Mark Turgeon to call a timeout.

The Terps had made one of their last 12 shots and were shooting 14 percent from the field up to that point.

But after Turgeon spoke to the team in the 30-second timeout, Maryland went on 7-0 run — its longest run of the half that included a coast-to-coast score from Darryl Morsell.

Soaring high, Morsell snagged the rebound and drove down the right side of the court to meet Cockburn. The junior guard came to a stop in the paint, pump-faked and sent the 7’0, 290-pound center flying. Morsell scored a right-handed layup shortly after.

Facing the team’s worst halftime deficit of 14 points and its worst shooting performance from the field at 30 percent, Cowan took it upon himself to dig his team out of a hole.

Within the first six minutes of the second half, the senior guard went on a personal 8-0 run in just over two minutes that cut Illinois’ lead to nine.

“This is not a team that is going to go away lightly,” Cowan said. “The whole game we’re just talking that ‘We just got to go on a run.’ And luckily we did late and we [were] able to get some stops.”

Through nine games this season, the Terps had overcome slow starts, but today it took them longer to conquer. After leading for 25 seconds in the first half, Maryland did not regain the lead until the final two seconds of the game.

And although no Terp went to halftime in the double-figures, Cowan finished with 20 points, a career-high seven rebounds, six assists and two steals. Morsell added 10 points and Smith scored 14 points to go along with 13 rebounds.

Three things to know

1. Terps avenge last year’s loss. In a matchup between these two teams last year at Madison Square Garden, Illinois got the best of Maryland in a 78-67 win. The Terps played one of their worst games against the Fighting Illini of the season with 21 turnovers, but that was not the case today.

Just as it was last year, Maryland was heavily favored in Saturday’s matchup, but the Terps were able to overcome the deficit and pull off the victory. Terps now improve to 5-1 against Illinois when hosting the team in College Park.

2. Starting lineup remained the same, despite size differences. Instead of matching Illinois’ size — starting 7’0 Cockburn and 6’9 Giorgi Bezhanishvili — Turgeon elected to stay with his same starting five, inlcuding Morsell, Cowan, Smith, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala.

Saturday was the second consecutive game that Maryland has started this lineup.

“We had to figure out how to play outside that lineup,” Turgeon said. “And that’s why I wasn’t starting that lineup early in the year. ... We gotta get some young guys playing a little bit better.”

After halftime, freshman Donta Scott replaced Ayala, giving Maryland more size against the Fighting Illini, but his only score came at the 1:46 mark in the second half.

3. For the second consecutive game, Maryland didn’t receive much offense from its bench. Against Notre Dame on Wednesday, the Terps’ bench only logged 13 points while their starters carried the offensive work load.

Three days later, Maryland could not get any production from players such as Scott, Hakim Hart, Ricky Lindo Jr. and the Mitchell twins. And the combination of players wasn't much help in other areas either. Scott was the only bench player who scored.