No. 17 Maryland men’s basketball picked up its first true road win Tuesday in Evanston, Illinois.
The Terps overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to beat Northwestern 77-66, picking up their 15th win of the season.
Here are our biggest takeaways from the victory.
1. Maryland finally had the production it needed from its bench
Before the season started, one of the biggest storylines for this team was that head coach Mark Turgeon had more depth at his disposal than any other year during his Maryland tenure, and it was supposed to make a big difference.
But going into Tuesday’s contest, the Terps were averaging 17.68 bench points per game, including just 13 per showing since Nov. 28.
Against Northwestern though, Maryland got the contributions from non-starters that it had been hoping for all year with 27 bench points — the team’s most since a Nov. 22 victory over George Mason.
In fact, the Terps’ bench kept the team in the game early on. Northwestern went on a 10-0 run out of the gates until Serrel Smith Jr. hit a triple from the left corner with 16:25 left in the first half. A few minutes later with Maryland down 14-5 and still with only his make from the field, he drained another deep shot.
And shortly after, Ricky Lindo Jr. joined the three-point scoring party. The duo combined for nine of Maryland’s first 12 points of night as the team’s starters went 1-of-15 in the first half.
Aaron Wiggins, who has come off the bench the last three games, had some big shots from behind the arc for the Terps as well, looking the best he has all season from long range. He helped set the tone as the team entered the second half down 40-26, draining a triple from the left wing off a pass from Eric Ayala to shorten the deficit and start the half on a 10-5 scoring run.
Wiggins finished with a career-high 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in 33 minutes, which included five made three-pointers — which is tied for his career-high. Smith Jr. had six points on 2-for-5 shooting, Lindo had three and Joshua Tomaic had a single point at the free-throw line.
“Our bench presence was really good today,” Wiggins said. “Everybody coming off the bench, those guys who started, I mean eventually everybody found their way and they just started to play more comfortable, more confident and with more passion. And that was huge for us.”
If Maryland can continue to get this kind of production from its bench, this team has a much better shot to go deep come March.
2. The Terps took care of the ball.
With just over seven minutes remaining in the game and Maryland attempting to regain the lead it had earned just a minute prior, Anthony Cowan Jr. dribbled the ball at the top of the key.
The senior had 16 seconds on the shot clock when he faked the handoff to Jalen Smith at the left elbow and drove to the hoop. But instead of attempting to finish over 6’10 Pete Nance, Cowan threw the ball to Ayala, who had no defender within 10 feet of him. The sophomore caught Cowan’s pass and hit his only three-pointer of the game to give the Terps a two-point lead.
With six assists and only one turnover, Cowan headlined Maryland’s ball control on the evening, but the team as a whole did a great job at valuing possessions. The Terps had 16 assists — the third-most of the season — on 19 made shots, and had six turnovers, which is their season-low. Prior to Tuesday, Maryland’s low was seven against Notre Dame on Dec. 4 and Indiana on Jan. 4.
“The guys just played — they played and they played under control,” Turgeon said. “They made the extra pass... and they made great decisions, and they were all about winning. They didn’t care who was scoring, what was going on. They just wanted to win.”
The Terps’ second half comeback can largely be attributed to Smith’s play. But Maryland went practically the final 20 minutes without giving the ball to the Wildcats. The only Terp turnover of the half came from Cowan with just over 30 seconds remaining and Maryland holding onto a 11-point lead.
3. Points in the paint were few and far between
Against a Northwestern team starting three players above 6’9, Maryland finished the night with just 12 points scored in the paint — its lowest scored in that area of the floor all season with the team averaging 28.84 points there per game.
The Terps’ first four shots of the games were three-pointers — none of which fell — and they continued to probe beyond the arc all night. They attempted 33 attempts from deep, which is their third-most taken all season.
And though the shots weren’t falling initially, Maryland ended the night with a season-high 13 three-pointers made, shooting 39.4 percent — its third-best percentage from deep in 2019-20.
The Wildcat defense took away a lot of the Terps looks down low by using double-teams in the paint. And when Maryland players did get to the hoop, they were often fouled and sent to the line. The team only had 21 attempts in the paint Tuesday night, of which it made just six shots.
“We knew coming that they were going to double us,” Smith said. “But we just had to find different ways and change how we run out offense just to get different looks.”
4. Pat Spencer was a problem
In the lacrosse landscape, everyone knows the name Pat Spencer. The Davidsonville, Maryland, native spent 2016-19 as a member of Loyola (Md.) men’s lacrosse squad, earning All-American honors four times and winning the Tewaaraton Award in 2019.
But Tuesday night, Spencer, who remains the Division I leader in assists (231) and totaled 380 career points as a Greyhound, created some issues for the Terps.
The 6’3 graduate student was the only guard to start for Northwestern and used his athleticism and quickness against Maryland.
With just over six minutes remaining in the first half, Spencer blocked Smith from behind and gathered the loose ball. Leading the three-on-two break, the Wildcat crossed over on Cowan and dodged an outstretched Donta Scott to finish the left-handed layup.
Just over a minute later, Spencer found Nance for his only three-pointer of the game, building Northwestern’s lead to 13 — two points shy of its largest margin of the game.
“Pat Spencer was killing us,” Turgeon said. “We moved [Wiggins] over to him late to get some size on him — get Anthony off of him. And it really helped us.”
Spencer, who was averaging 10.6 points, 4.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game entering Tuesday night, led the team in points (17) and rebounds (9) and was second on the team in assists (3).
The “lacrosse guy” did it all for the Wildcats and proved to be one of the best athletes Maryland has faced thus far.