With two minutes to play against Northwestern, Anthony Cowan Jr. drove to the left side of the three-point line and threw a pass behind him. Waiting was Jalen Smith, who had broken his season- and career-highs in scoring on the previous two possessions.
The sophomore big caught the ball on the right wing of the arc and fired a deep three with no Wildcat defender in his vicinity. Smith held his shot and watched the ball go through the net, giving the Terps a nine-point lead, their biggest of the night.
Smith finished with a new career-high 25 points — 21 of which came in the second half — fueling a 15-point comeback in the No. 17 Maryland men's basketball’s 77-66 victory over Northwestern. It’s the first true road win for the Terps this season after going 0-4 in prior contests.
“I know what I’m capable of, and my team knows what I’m capable of. Shots were just falling for me in the second half,” Smith said. “I was pretty much just helping my team get to the point where we needed to get.”
Though it pulled off the win, Maryland was completely out of it to start the contest. Northwestern went on a 10-0 run after winning the opening tip and shot a remarkable 60 percent from the field and efficient 4-of-6 from beyond the arc through the first half.
Maryland’s starters, on the other hand, completely failed to show up, at least early on. In the first half, the starting five went 1-of-15 from the field, leaving Mark Turgeon’s offense to look elsewhere for production.
“We were walking on eggshells,” Turgeon said. “We were just so slow in our movement. They were sagging back, and then we were missing some wide open threes too and kind of got in our head a little bit.”
After being held scoreless for the first few minutes and missing their first five shots, the Terps needed someone to step up.
With 16:27 left in the first half, Aaron Wiggins drove towards the left side of the paint into a trio of Wildcat defenders before pulling up, jumping and throwing a pass into the near corner. Waiting was Serrel Smith Jr. who quickly caught the ball and shot a triple, which rattled home for Maryland’s first points of the night.
Just over three minutes later, Smith Jr. banged another three-pointer from the left wing of the arc, this time on a feed from Cowan. The two shots made Smith Jr. tied for the Terps’ leading scorer through 20 minutes — alongside fellow bench-mate Wiggins — and the bench’s production was the only thing that kept the team in the game.
Wiggins also hit a pair of first-half threes, continuing his rebound from an early-season shooting slump. Ricky Lindo Jr., just 1-of-2 from beyond the arc entering play, hit a corner three to cut Northwestern’s lead to single digits, though it didn’t last long.
After a Smith alley-oop dunk with 9:24 left in the first half made Maryland’s deficit just six points, the offense vanished. It took the Terps nearly eight minutes to make another field goal, allowing the Wildcats to sprint out to a 15-point lead.
“Today at halftime, everybody came in there. Before the coaches said anything, every single player said something about the energy, about the body language, the way we look out there,” Wiggins said. “As soon as Turgeon walked in, he said that we gotta believe it, we gotta want it, and this is the start of the new season. We can start right now at halftime.
“That was one thing everyone took personally. We decided to lock in in the second half.”
Coming out of the break, Maryland made one of its patented second-half runs to get back into the game. Wiggins started things off with his third three-pointer just 10 seconds into the period, and then Smith started his takeover.
With 18:08 left, he corralled a Darryl Morsell bounce pass and threw down a two-handed jam to spark the team’s energy. On the following offensive possession, he cleaned up a Cowan missed layup for a putback dunk, finishing over Turner for an and-one poster.
Just over two minutes later, he caught a pass from Cowan a couple feet beyond the top of the arc, but he never wavered. He quickly caught the ball, turned towards the rim and launched a deep three, cutting the Terps’ deficit back to six and capping off a 10-2 scoring run.
Down 10 with 12:25 left, they continued to force their way inside. A Donta Scott triple was sandwiched between trips to the line for Wiggins and Smith, who hit all four free throws. And after Pat Spencer briefly shunted the scoring run with a layup, Wiggins and Cowan hit back-to-back threes to take the lead for the first time all game with nine minutes left.
But as well as Maryland was playing, it seemed helpless to stop Spencer. After Smith’s ferocious dunk extended his team’s lead to three, the former Tewaaraton Award winner scored six straight points for the Wildcats to regain the lead at 59-58 and pave the way for a back-and-forth ending to the game.
The Terps began pulling away late at the free-throw line, and after Smith’s three gave Maryland a 72-63 lead with 1:57 left, the Terps got their dagger less than a minute later.
Cowan stalked his defender and drove to the rack, throwing a cross-court pass to Eric Ayala in the left corner. The sophomore quickly swung the ball to Wiggins, who hit his fifth three of the game to put Northwestern away for good.
“We all have the faith that we can win any game that we play, regardless of the score, regardless of how we start off,” Wiggins said. “It just shows our potential as a team. We have the abilities, we have everything we need.”
Three things to know
1. Aaron Wiggins shined once again. Over his last two games entering Tuesday, Wiggins was showing signs of breaking out of his slump. In the Wisconsin and Purdue games, he went 5-of-12 from beyond the arc and scored 25 points, a stark contrast from the beginning of the season. Against the Wildcats, he continued to stroke it from deep, as he hit a season-high five threes on nine attempts. Wiggins finished with 17 points — second only to Smith — and added five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
2. Free-throw shooting made a big difference. Despite Northwestern’s stark height advantage in this one, the Terps were the ones who got to the foul line more often. Led by Smith’s 9-of-9 performance, Maryland had a conference play-high 29 attempts and made a whopping 26 of them (89.7 percent). The Wildcats, on the other hand, went just 11-of-13.
“It’s just playing hard, being aggressive and not playing soft,” Turgeon said. “And we really played hard in the second half without fouling, which I think is real important.”
3. Anthony Cowan Jr. moved up in the Maryland history books. Though he didn’t play particularly well on Tuesday night, Cowan continued his ascent in Terp lore. His 12 points moved him into 13th place all-time in scoring, passing his former teammate, Melo Trimble. And with a six-assist performance, he jumped John Lucas for fifth in program history.