Currently on a three-game winning streak — including the final two legs on the road — No. 15 Maryland men’s basketball is back to Xfinity Center to try to make it four in a row.
The Terps most recently came from behind in dramatic fashion to beat Indiana in Bloomington, using a game-winning Jalen Smith layup in the closing moments to stave off defeat.
“We know when we play to the best of our abilities, we’re one of the best teams in the country,” Darryl Morsell said. “Getting a road win at Assembly Hall with the crowd against us and just everything that was involved and how we won is definitely a confidence builder for us.”
Maryland’s next opponent is one it’s seen once before this season, and it was the darkest day of the season for Mark Turgeon’s team to this point of the year. Back on Jan. 10 in Iowa City, the Terps were decimated by the Hawkeyes, losing 67-49. Both teams are currently tied for fourth place in the Big Ten standings, and a win for either side could be monumental — at the very least putting it in a tie with Rutgers for third place.
Thursday’s tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Here is the preview from the first time the two teams met.
What happened last time
Heading into the game on Jan. 10, then-No. 12 Maryland still hadn’t won on the road. Following back-to-back losses to Penn State and Seton Hall, the team had picked up three straight wins, the most recent of which was a comfortable victory against then-No. 11 Ohio State.
But Iowa proved to be a different animal altogether. Led by Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp, the Hawkeyes scored at will in the first half and put the clamps on the Terps’ attack for the final 30 minutes of play.
Iowa’s dynamic duo combined for 47 points, nearly outscoring Maryland (49 points) by themselves. The Terps, meanwhile, shot just 32.7 percent from the field and 18.2 percent on threes, finding themselves unable to put together anything resembling a consistent offense.
“We were bad. We stunk,” Turgeon said after the defeat. “And I’ve been doing this a long time, and that ranks up there as one of the worst one of my teams have ever played.”
Smith had an efficient night offensively, going 5-of-7 from the floor. But he was bottled up throughout, scoring 13 points and grabbing just five boards.
His supporting cast was nonexistent though, as the quintet of Anthony Cowan Jr, Morsell, Donta Scott, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala combined to go 7-of-36 (19.4 percent) on field goals and 3-of-19 on triples.
What’s happened since
The Terps lost their next contest on the road at Wisconsin on Jan. 14 in a game they probably should have won — they bungled an inbounds play up with 13.6 seconds left and then watched Brad Davison hit an uncontested, game-winning corner three.
But after that, Maryland has been rejuvenated. After beating Purdue at home, the team finally got the monkey off its back by picking up its first true road win against Northwestern on Jan. 21. Five days later, the Terps pulled a rabbit out of their hat, finishing the complete opposite way they did in Madison.
Since being relatively contained by Iowa, Smith has exploded. Over his last four, he’s averaging 22.5 points on 62.7 percent shooting — 52.6 percent from deep — with 10.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest.
“[Jalen’s] just been dominant in every aspect of the game. He’s rebounding everything, blocking shots and scoring at will,” Wiggins said. “He won’t take no for an answer. It’s been so good, I’m happy for him.”
And after being shut out for the first time in his collegiate career, Wiggins has rebounded to the tune of a 12.5 points per game average while posting 44.4/46.1/100 shooting splits.
“What we’ve tried to do is instill confidence in [Wiggins] and let him realize how important he is to us and just to relax and have fun,” Turgeon said. “We have made 25 [threes] in our last two games. We’ve kind of changed who we are and guys are playing with more confidence, not only Aaron but a lot of guys.”
While Maryland has posted a 3-1 record since the first game against Iowa, the Hawkeyes have been even better. The team has gone undefeated since Jan. 10, knocking off Northwestern, then-No. 19 Michigan, then-No. 24 Rutgers and Wisconsin without much trouble.
As it’s been all season long, Garza continued to carry his team to success. Including a 33-point performance against the Wolverines, the junior center is averaging a gaudy 27.3 points per game over his last four contests. In that span, he’s shooting 56.1 percent from the floor — 50 percent on threes — while adding 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
Wieskamp has continued his stretch of strong play, as he’s averaging 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds over his last four games. And he’s been a force at the line, making 25 of his 26 attempts.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland contain Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp? While the Terps had a lot of issues back in their first game against the Hawkeyes, none were more prominent than their inability to contain Iowa’s two best players. Garza (21 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks) was a force on the interior and Wieskamp (26 points, 11 boards, four steals, 5-of-9 on threes) was simply ridiculous.
Smith has broken out on both ends of the court the last few games, so perhaps he’ll fare better in establishing a presence in the paint than he did against Garza the first time out. But even if Garza is bottled up, Wieskamp and the rest of Iowa’s shooters could still make the Terps pay.
“[Jalen’s] been playing with terrific confidence. His defense has been really good for a long time,” Turgeon said. “In the Big Ten this year, the bigs are terrific. Each and every night, it’s a battle. ... Garza, to me, he’s been Player of the Year in the league so far, and he’s a tough load. So it’s another really tough matchup for Jalen tomorrow night.”
2. Will Anthony Cowan Jr. positively regress to the mean? While he carried the team early in the season as a veteran leader and leading scorer, Cowan has been in a somewhat of a shooting rut since the start of the first Iowa meeting. Over his last five games, the senior is averaging 10.5 points — a respectable number — but has shot just 29.8 percent from the field, 22.6 percent on threes and 67.9 percent from the free throw line. His passing (2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio) hasn’t been affected much, but he’ll have to be more efficient in shooting if Maryland is to have a legitimate chance.
3. Will Maryland continue to take care of the ball? Against Iowa the first time around, the Terps turned the ball over 17 times, one of their highest totals of the season. Those giveaways led to 13 points for the Hawkeyes — not a ton, but enough to make a difference. In its last two games, Maryland has committed just 11 turnovers, leading to 13 points for its opponents. If Turgeon’s team is going to win Thursday, ball control will be absolutely vital.
Vegas: Maryland -5.5, O/U 146 (As of Tuesday night)
ESPN BPI: Maryland 74.5% chance to win
KenPom: Maryland 75, Iowa 71 (Maryland 66% chance to win)
Me: Iowa 73, Maryland 69