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Maryland basketball overcame close-game struggles to beat Nebraska

This is the Maryland Minute, a short story followed by a roundup of Terps-related news.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball eked out a two-point win over No. 24 Nebraska Wednesday night to open the new year on the right foot. It was the Terps’ first win over a ranked opponent since the 2015-16 season and just the second win in a game decided by five points or less since Melo Trimble left school two seasons ago.

It was the type of back-and-forth game that has ended with Maryland on the wrong end of the scoreboard nine out of 10 times since Trimble went pro, save a one-point win over Illinois last season. However, head coach Mark Turgeon’s young squad found a way to pull out a win at home to reopen conference play.

“I think it’s a huge win, I think we prepared very well for this game,” point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. told reporters after the game. “Especially for us to be such a young team to be able to handle such a big game. ... I wasn’t really looking at the ranking, I was just trying to see us win a close game. Sometimes those games really slipped away from us previously, so it was good to have one back.”

Maryland wasn't perfect. Not even close. But the trio of Cowan, Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith pushed the Terps to the win down the stretch. The trio accounted for 31 of Maryland’s 39 second-half points, with Cowan and Smith scoring 13 of Maryland’s final 14. Maryland was the more opportunistic team, turning 10 Nebraska turnovers into 17 points. That helped make up for the Terps’ 13 turnovers, including six from Fernando, which the Cornhuskers turned into 11 points.

Most importantly, Maryland came up with stops down the stretch. After tying the game twice in the second half’s opening minutes, the two teams traded scores until it was knotted at 56 with 10 minutes left. From there, the Terps found a way to be the aggressors, and held a lead or were tied until Nebraska took a 71-70 lead with 2:13 remaining. Two more scores from Smith and a clutch stop from Ricky Lindo sealed the deal on a tight win for Maryland.

“That was probably the best defensive game we played, in the last 10 minutes,” Fernando said after the game. “We were connected on defense, talking to each other—we did everything right. I think that’s all that helped us really just be able to stay in the game and coming down to the end like that and get a win.”

In other news

Maryland’s big men came up huge in the win. Fernando poured in 18 points and set a new career-high with 17 rebounds, while his freshman frontcourt-mate scored the Terps’ final seven points, including the game-winner.

The team has lost a lot of these close games, so this is one Fernando said they had to get for Turgeon. They celebrated with him by dousing him with water, though, so I hope they also got him a towel.

Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins both celebrated their 20th birthdays before yesterday’s game, trading gifts before the contest and scoring seven and eight points, respectively, against the Cornhuskers.

Ayala and Wiggins weren’t alone in celebrating a Jan. 2 birthday, as their joined by field hockey’s Bodil Keus and volleyball’s Chloe Prejean.

After off-the-field chaos dominated the Maryland football storylines in 2018, the Terps will hope to start to fix the damage in the new year.