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3 keys to Maryland basketball’s 2nd-half turnaround at Minnesota

Here’s how the Terps were able to turn a close game into an impressive road victory.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

For most of the night, Maryland and Minnesota looked to be in a dogfight. Neither team could establish separation, as they traded blows on offense and fought for rebounds on both ends of the floor. The Terps found themselves in many games like this last season, usually coming up just short. But unlike last year, Maryland found another gear down the stretch, eventually pulling away for an 82-67 win.

The final score was slightly deceptive. Though the Terps never let the Golden Gophers separate, they trailed for much of the night. However, Maryland seemed to take control in the second half, even while trailing. Here’s what made the difference over the final 20 minutes.

Maryland’s offense caught fire.

The Terps’ so-so offense in the first half was buoyed by an excellent performance from the foul line, but Maryland took it to another level in the second half. The Terps made their first eight shots of the period and stayed hot, shooting 69.6 percent over the final 20 minutes. That confidence carried over to the three-point line, where Maryland hit six of seven shots from beyond the arc after missing the three it took in the first half.

The red-hot offense was complemented by continued lights-out shooting from the foul line. The Terps shot 10-of-12 from the charity stripe in the second half, finishing 24-of-27 for the game. Minnesota shot 9-of-23 from the foul line for the night, missing its last six attempts. All in all, this was arguably Maryland’s best offensive half this season.

Maryland switched to zone, and it paid off.

As hot as the Terps were early in the second half, Minnesota matched it. The Golden Gophers made five of their first seven shots, taking a 54-47 lead with 14:28 remaining. Maryland was struggling to contain Minnesota inside, and also failed to close out on open shooters throughout the first half and early in the second.

In what he said was a “desperation move” postgame, Mark Turgeon switched to a 3-2 zone defense to try to stop the Gophers on offense. The plan worked, as Maryland’s length flummoxed Minnesota for the rest of the game. Following the hot start shooting, the Gophers finished the game on a 5-for-19 slump. Even though they still found holes in the zone that allowed them to get rebounds, Minnesota couldn’t capitalize at the foul line.

The improvement of Ricky Lindo and Serrel Smith Jr. has made Maryland much more solid defensively, but there will still be nights when this team struggles. With its success Tuesday, Turgeon has something to use in his back pocket if the Terps struggle with their usual man-to-man defense.

Anthony Cowan Jr. went off.

Both teams’ top scorers had quiet first halves. Cowan scored four points and shot 1-for-5 from the field, while Minnesota’s Amir Coffey scored the Gophers’ last five points of the half after missing his first five shots. Coffey started the second half strong with five of Minnesota’s first nine points and finished with 16, but Cowan took his game to another level.

The junior point guard scored 23 points in the second half on his way to a career-high 27. It was an unusually efficient night for the junior, who finished 7-for-12 from the field, 3-for-5 from three and a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line. Cowan scored 12 of Maryland’s last 15 points, including an answer when the Terps most needed one.

After taking control of the game late, Coffey drilled a three to cut the Maryland lead to 69-65 with 4:28 remaining. With the shot clock winding down on the next possession, Cowan did what he seems to do in every close game the Terps win, burying a deep and questionable three-point shot. Minnesota never threatened again.

It’s been an up-and-down start for Cowan, who has had to adjust to playing off the ball more than he did his first two years at Maryland. But he’s looked better of late, especially as his outside shooting has improved. He’s shot 9-of-19 from behind the arc in the Terps last three games, improving to 35.4 percent for the year. Maryland doesn’t need Cowan to do as much this season with Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith inside, but a consistent and confident Cowan who plays within the offense makes the Terps that much better.