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Maryland basketball vs. Minnesota preview (senior night edition)

The Terps close the regular season with a rematch against the Golden Gophers.

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

Maryland basketball has one game remaining in its regular season, as the No. 24 Terps welcome Minnesota to College Park on senior night Friday.

Mark Turgeon’s team comes in on a two-game losing streak. Maryland was embarrassed on the road by Penn State last Wednesday, then came up short against Michigan in front of a raucous home crowd Sunday. The losses dropped the Terps from fourth to fifth in the Big Ten, which would mean a single bye instead of a double bye in next week’s conference tournament. The scenarios, per

– Can clinch #4 seed and double bye with win vs Minnesota + 2 Wisconsin losses OR with a win + Wisconsin loss + Purdue finishing ahead of Michigan

– Clinches 5 seed if those things above don’t happen

– Seed range: 4-5

Wisconsin, who pulled into fourth last weekend, hosts Iowa on Thursday night, but regardless of how that game plays out, Maryland has a chance at the double bye with a win.

It’s not a particularly busy senior night, as Maryland has just two seniors on its roster. Big man Ivan Bender has been with the Terps since coming over during the 2014-15 season, while former walk-on Andrew Terrell has led Maryland’s bench mob for the last four years (he was put on scholarship in December).

The Terps are playing a Minnesota team that had a senior night to remember Tuesday night, knocking off No. 13 Purdue at home and knocking the Boilermakers out of contention for the outright Big Ten title and No. 1 tournament seed. That was a massive win for a team right on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and a win at Maryland would further boost the Golden Gophers’ resume.

Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET on BTN.

What happened last time

Minnesota took a 40-34 lead into halftime, but Maryland dominated the second half, outscoring the Gophers 48-27. The final score wasn’t quite indicative of how close the game was, but the Terps had already taken complete control of the contest.

Anthony Cowan Jr. led that second-half dominance, scoring 23 of his game-high 27 points after intermission. The junior point guard finished 7-of-12 from the floor and 10-for-10 from the foul line and chipped in six rebounds and five assists. Jalen Smith had one of his best games in 2019, tossing up 21 points and pulling down eight boards. Bruno Fernando had a double-double (shocking, I know) with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Maryland shot 54.2 percent to Minnesota’s 41.9 percent, but the most noticeable difference was at the free-throw line. The Terps went 24-of-27, while the Gophers were a ghastly 9-of-23 in their own building.

Here’s the preview and recap from the first meeting.

What’s happened since

The win was the fourth in Maryland’s seven-game hot streak, since which the Terps have now gone 5-6 (the schedule has gotten tougher, although there were two then-ranked teams in that earlier stretch). As mentioned above, Maryland needs some help in order to secure a double bye in the Big Ten tournament next week.

Minnesota alternated wins and losses to start Big Ten play, then reached 6-4 in the conference before dropping six of seven games. After a loss at Rutgers on Feb. 24, the Gophers were 7-10 in league play and in danger of falling out of the NCAA Tournament (a weak bubble kept them in most field projections even then). But after wins over Northwestern and Purdue, Minnesota is most likely in the big dance, and the Gophers can clock in anywhere between the No. 6 and No. 9 seed in the conference tournament.

Three things to watch

1. Does Mark Turgeon change his lineup for senior night? Maryland has trotted out the same starting five in all 19 conference games this season and 23 of its 30 contests overall. However, it’s common for coaches to start their seniors on senior day, even if they otherwise wouldn’t play much. Bender, the lone senior in Maryland’s extended rotation, has started just one game this season and has been sparingly used in league play. And as fun as it would be, don’t hold your breath for that Andrew Terrell starting nod. So it’s unlikely anything changes, but it wouldn’t be a shock.

2. Can Maryland contain Jordan Murphy again? The Gophers’ best player averages 14.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per game for the season. But a large part of Maryland’s success in Minneapolis was keeping Murphy quiet. He went just 3-of-6 from the floor, and while he was able to get to the foul line, he converted just 3 of 9 free throws to finish with nine points alongside five rebounds. If the Terps can minimize his impact again Friday, it’ll be that much tougher for Minnesota to win in College Park.

3. Who finally gets going for the Terps? In the two losses last week, pretty much every player was off their game in some way. Cowan scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting against Penn State, but had five turnovers and didn’t heat up from the field until it was far too late. And against Michigan, all five starters scored in double figures but none surpassed 12 points. Someone will likely need to have a breakout performance to vault Maryland back into the win column.

Warm-up words

We’ve updated this story with a few quotes from Maryland’s media availability Thursday afternoon.

Head coach Mark Turgeon, on Minnesota’s improvement since the teams last played each other:
“They’ve had their backs against the wall for like the last three weeks or whatever and they’re playing like it. ... They played really well and their young guys have gotten better, defensively they’ve gotten better, and I think they know where the ball needs to go now all the time.”

Freshman guard Eric Ayala, on the importance of winning the last game of the regular season:
“Every game we go into, we go into with the intentions of winning. Tomorrow is even bigger with our seniors, we want to lead them out the right way, have a good experience for them. At this moment, it’s getting ready for tournament time and we just want to be the best team we can be going into it ... we just want to go out and execute what we’re capable of.”

Turgeon on the challenge of guarding Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy:
“He’s really good, what a career he’s had. ... He gets all the way to the rim, puts a lot of foul pressure on you ... his terrific defensive rebounding is always in the right spot and he’s just so big and strong. ... Hopefully we’ll do a good job with him. You can’t give him angles.”


KenPom: Maryland 72, Minnesota 65

Me: Maryland 75, Minnesota 67