With under a minute to play and No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball in a one-point game with Nebraska, senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. was sent to the line for a one-and-one opportunity to extend his team’s lead to three.
But Cowan missed the first, allowing Cornhusker guard Cam Mack to take the ball coast-to-coast and attempt to make a game-winning layup and end the Terps’ undefeated home record.
Instead of finishing the play, the Nebraska guard was met by Jalen Smith, who came over and swatted his shot away with his left hand to secure the Terps’ eventual 72-70 victory Tuesday night. They’ve now won seven straight games.
“I knew he was going to block that shot. I don’t know if you guys did or not, but I did,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “I was just hoping we’d come up with it.”
But for much of the night, Maryland struggled to separate itself from Nebraska. But when it needed a boost early on, Cowan stepped up in a big way.
With just over 8:30 remaining in the first half, Cowan drove to his right and jumped up and threw a cross-court pass to Donta Scott, who was standing alone in the corner. The freshman hit his first three-pointer of the night, ending the Terps’ nearly four-minute drought without a field goal.
Three minutes later, Cowan found himself at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down. Instead of forcing a tough shot over a defender, the senior guard pump-faked and drew the foul, giving him three shots at the free throw line — all of which he made.
Near the 30 second mark of the first half, Cowan performed the same exact move to perfection — though he only made two of his three free throws.
Cowan’s play in the final nine minutes of the first pushed Maryland to an 18-6 run going into halftime. But it was Maryland’s play on the defensive end that allowed it to pull away a bit before the half, forcing the Cornhuskers to miss 11 of their final 13 shots and keeping them without a field goal for the final 3:07.
The Terps forced Nebraska to beat them from outside, which it was unable to do by halftime. Twenty of Nebraska’s 33 first-half shots were from deep, and the team only converted three of them.
Maryland entered the break with a 38-25 lead — its largest since Jan. 18 against Purdue.
Despite shooting only 27 percent in the first half, Nebraska traded the first punch in the second half, hitting seven of its first eight shots and outscoring Maryland 15-9 through the first five minutes of play.
With just under 11 minutes remaining in the game and the shot clock hitting single digits, Maryland looked for an answer offensively. The team worked around the ball, until Cowan tried to hit Smith with the alley-oop.
But the pass soared over Smith’s head, where Aaron Wiggins attempted to save the turnover. The sophomore threw the pass to Smith, but the play resulted in a missed three-pointer from Cowan and an easy backdoor layup from Nebraska at the other end, cutting the Terps’ lead to only 54-49.
For much of the game, the Maryland crowd waited for the Terps to make a push and separate themselves from the Cornhuskers, who entered with an eight-game losing streak.
With just under 10-minutes, the Terps once again attempted to pull away from Nebraska. Within 30 seconds, Wiggins stole the ball twice — the first resulting in a two handed slam that was the team’s only points during a 12-2 run by the Cornhuskers.
Still, Maryland weathered Nebraska’s 54.8 percent second-half shooting performance and led the entire second half — unable to fully extend its lead out of its opponent’s reach.
“I didn’t have us ready. I was a little under the weather. I wasn’t at practice Sunday — I haven’t missed a practice in 15 years,” Turgeon said. “I didn’t do my job. So let’s [not] take it out on the guys — take it out on me, and I’ll do a better job.”
After the Terps’ 14-point lead was reduced to only two points with over six minutes remaining, Cowan swung the ball to Ayala, who notched his third three-pointer of the night and pushed the Terps’ lead to 59-54.
Just about two minutes later, Ayala hit another shot from deep to cap off a 8-0 Maryland run and score a season-high 16 points to go along with five assists. And even though the shot put the Terps up by 10, they let the Cornhuskers once again get back into it.
With just over one-minute remaining and the Terps holding onto a four-point lead, Cowan attempted to find the right shot once again. He passed it out to the right side of the court, where Darryl Morsell was waiting for his pass. The junior made his only three-pointer of the night on Cowan’s 10th assist.
His bucket was the Terps’ final field goal of the game with Nebraska going on 6-0 run to try to end the game before Smith’s final block.
In a night where the program honored Smith by giving members of the audience personalized goggles and glow sticks, it was only right that sophomore didn’t allow an upset in College Park.
“A lot of different things could have happened if he wasn’t there,” Cowan said.
Three things to know
1. Mark Turgeon joins elite Maryland company. With tonight’s win over the Cornhuskers, Turgeon becomes the fifth head coach in program history to reach 200 career wins. Turgeon, who now has a 200-96 record with the Terps, is the second-fastest coach to reach the feat — behind only Lefty Driesell (285 games).
2. Donta Scott records his first-career double-double. Despite just being a freshman, Scott has been extremely influential in his first season in College Park. But entering Tuesday night, he had not grabbed more than seven boards in a game. That all changed against Nebraska, as Scott hauled in 10 rebounds and added 10 points to boot to notch his first-ever double-double.
“I expect him to go out and do stuff like that,” Ayala said. “That’s my little bro. So when I see him flying, I know [he’s] in the game — whether it’s for an offensive rebound, defensive rebound, ally-oop — I know he’s into the game.”
3. Chol contributed big minutes. Marial, who hasn’t played more than five minutes since Jan. 14 against Wisconsin, saw six minutes of game action, all coming in the first half. With just over two minutes remaining in the first half, Marial gathered an offensive rebound and put back a layup for his first points since Jan. 4 against the Terps’ first meeting with Indiana. Nearly a minute later, he picked up a crucial block, contributing to Maryland’s late first half run. He finished with two points, two rebounds and a block.