As his teammates fought for the defensive rebound, Anthony Cowan Jr. sprinted to the other end of the court, eager to create some separation for No. 15 Maryland men’s basketball, who had been locked in a back-and-forth battle with No. 18 Iowa all night.
After sinking a layup with ease to give the Terps a three-point lead, the senior guard brought pressure on the Hawkeyes’ inbounds play, forcing guard Joe Toussaint to tip the ball out of bounds. Less than a minute later, Jalen Smith grabbed a miss from Darryl Morsell inside and jumped over his defender to throw down a two-handed jam to extend Maryland lead to five.
The duo, which was the catalyst for its team throughout the contest, started a 8-2 run to allow the Terps to establish a dominant lead it never relinquished in a 82-72 win over the Hawkeyes Thursday night.
“When you play [Maryland], you want to mark Cowan and Smith, and they had 49,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We didn’t do a good enough job on those two guys.”
Cowan finished with a career-high 31 points, along with six assists and six rebounds, while Smith ended with his 12th double-double of the season on 18 points and 11 rebounds, plus five blocks — which is tied for a career high.
Maryland got off to a quick start offensively, making its first three attempts from the field, but then allowed Iowa to go on an 8-0 run over 1:10 to take a 10-7 lead with a little over 15 minutes to go in the first half.
The Hawkeyes had the advantage from there, though the Terps managed to keep the game within close striking distance.
But then Jalen Smith, as he has for the past two contests to earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors, ignited his team.
As Hawkeye forward Cordell Pemsl drove into the paint looking for a layup with 8:28 left in the first half, the sophomore rose into the air and swatted the ball away with his left hand.
Aaron Wiggins then missed a layup on the other end, but Smith was there to keep the offense going. He grabbed the offensive rebound and slammed down a jam, sending Xfinity Center into a roar.
On the very next defensive possession, Smith once again had a big deflection to shut down the Hawkeye offense. He led nearly a three minute span in which Iowa missed six straight field goals and eventually made it a one-point game at 23-22 with a layup a few possessions later.
“That was really big,” Wiggins said. “He’s playing really dominant in his aggression and his awareness on the defensive end and on the offensive end. It’s so good for us. It helps get the crowd into it, gives us a little momentum. And it just shows how much he’s improved and how he helps our team when he’s playing the way he is.”
Wiggins hit a three-point bomb from the top right corner to give Maryland a 27-25 lead, but neither side truly took control until the last two minutes of the half.
With 2:15 until the break, Cowan swished a deep ball from the wing to put the Terps up 32-30. Smith drew a foul and sunk two free throws shortly after to extend it to 34-30, before his teammate drilled a jumper down low to give Maryland a 36-32 lead at the half.
“Anthony Cowan was off the charts,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Efficient, fast, a pest. He’s having fun. And he was really good — really, really good.”
It looked as if the second half would be another close affair as the Hawkeyes fought back early, until of course the Terps’ two leading men got their team started on the 8-2 run.
And with 7:23 left to play, Maryland gained its largest lead of the day. Cowan sent Wiggins a lob across the court into the top left corner, where the sophomore drained a three-pointer to make it a 60-49 advantage.
Cowan made two shots at the free-throw line to extend the lead to 13 points shortly after, but the Terps then went cold from the floor, unable to score a field goal for around five minutes. The Hawkeyes never got back in it though, with a such a large lead already established.
As the clock ticked down to the final minute of play, Cowan dribbled the ball outside the arc as a packed Xfinity Center chanted, “MVP! MVP! MVP!” The senior guard, who along with Smith was crucial to take down the same opponent that handed Maryland its worst defeat of the season just 20 days prior, sunk a pull-up triple. He then pounded his chest and pointed to the crowd as he and the Terps put an end to Iowa’s five-game win streak.
Three things to know
1. Anthony Cowan Jr. had a career-day. The senior guard entered Thursday’s contest with 1,685 career-points, in need of just 20 to pass Walt Williams for 12th on Maryland’s all-time scoring list. Cowan surpassed that with relative ease with his 31 points. He now needs 17 more to move into 11th place and pass Terence Morris.
“That’s huge for me,” Cowan said. “I grew up 20 minutes down the street, so my whole family, that’s all they talked about — him, all the [great] players. So just to have my name next to him big time for me.”
2. The Terps have won four straight. Thursday night’s victory over Iowa marks four consecutive victories for Mark Turgeon’s squad, which seems to be hitting its stride at just the right time. This is Maryland’s largest streak since it started the season 10-0, and it moves the team into third place (tied) in the Big Ten.
3. Maryland cooled down from deep. After making 25 three-pointers over their past two games on a 40.2 percent shooting clip, the Terps once again returned to their struggles behind the arc against the Hawkeyes. Maryland shot 7-for-25 from deep on the evening, but that didn’t stop the team from pulling off a signature victory at Xfinity Center.