It wasn’t pretty at all, but No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball won its seventh straight game Tuesday, holding on against Nebraska for a 72-70 victory.
In what was the epitome of an up-and-down affair, here’s what stood out from the action.
1. Jalen Smith keeps doing it
It’s not a coincidence that the Terps’ seven-game win streak has coincided with Smith’s phenomenal stretch.
With a 16-point, 13-rebound performance, the sophomore big picked up his seventh consecutive double-double — the longest streak of his career, matching Bruno Fernando’s run from Jan. 18 to Feb. 12 last season — and giving him 15 on the season.
“I’m not aiming for [double-doubles] intentionally, but it comes to me,” Smith said. “Every rebound that’s coming off the rim in my perfect lane, and the points always flow for me. Just knowing that I have seven straight is amazing for us.”
And the Terps needed every bit of his performance against the Cornhuskers. Not only did he end the game at the free-throw line late — he missed the second intentionally to induce a Nebraska rebound — his first and last block of the game sealed the win in the final seconds.
Jalen Smith saves the game to Maryland men's basketball's win streak alive.— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) February 12, 2020
“[He] won us the game, basically, off that defensive stop. A lot of different things could happen if he wasn’t there,” Anthony Cowan Jr. said. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s scoring, getting rebounds. ... He’s hooping, doing what we need him to do.”
Nebraska actually contained Smith more than many expected — he had just seven points and three rebounds (more on that later) in the second half after dominating early on — but the sophomore responded by turning in arguably his most efficient shooting game of the season, going 7-of-10 from the field.
Jalen Smith with AUTHORITY on the slam!— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) February 12, 2020
After all, it is Stix Specks night. pic.twitter.com/wb9Zlo1BqW
While Cowan has been the veteran of the group, nobody’s play has been more important than Smith’s in the last month or so. And if the Terps are going to continue to push towards a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, it’ll likely be on the back of Smith.
2. The Terps were surprisingly challenged on the glass
Entering Tuesday’s game, Nebraska sported one of the worst rebounding rates in all of college basketball. On the year, it averaged a minus-10.1 margin, ranking last in the Big Ten — Northwestern’s minus-2.8 was next-worst — and 349th in the country.
Despite boasting a four-guard lineup and lacking experience in its front court, the Cornhuskers didn’t roll over in their tough matchup against the Terps. In fact, they shocked pretty much everyone by keeping things so tight.
While Smith got his when it was all said and done, Maryland as a team struggled to make a significant impact on the boards. After a plus-seven margin in the first half, the Terps were outrebounded often after the break, finishing with just a 35-34 edge for the game.
“We got real lackadaisical in the second half, me especially. I think I only got two rebounds that game in the second half,” Smith said. “That’s just something we have to fix in the film — making sure we figure out what we did wrong and make sure we don’t do it again.”
Scott had a career-high 10-rebound performance, but the rest of the team had surprisingly quiet nights. Darryl Morsell failed to secure a rebound for the second time all season and the fourth time in his career. Aaron Wiggins brought in only two boards and Cowan had just one.
It didn’t ultimately cost the Terps, but their lack of success on the glass nearly cost them. In a huge perceived mismatch against the worst major-conference rebounding team in the nation, Maryland had just seven offensive rebounds and only five second-chance points.
“They were real physical,” Turgeon said. “I had two on the boards, Donta [Scott] and Jalen, and they couldn’t get a rebound. They were trying, they were just really boxed out well. That was one thing I thought we could do, is get offensive rebounds. And we really couldn’t. You got to credit them, they were physical with their box-outs.”
3. Passing was uneven throughout
On the season, Maryland had recorded an assist on 53 percent of its made baskets — not an eye-opening number either way, ranking at the bottom of the top-100 teams in the country. But against the Cornhuskers, the Terps’ passes were leading to buckets left and right.
Of the team’s 25 made field goals Tuesday, a whopping 20 came on assists. That 80 percent assist rate is their second-best in a game this season, only behind the Northwestern game on Jan. 21. Whether it was in the half-court or transition, the Terps were finding teammates open for easy buckets.
Welcome to the Aaron Wiggins dunk show, folks. pic.twitter.com/7dJNUGLjgH— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) February 12, 2020
Cowan had one of his better passing performances of his Maryland tenure, tying a career-high with 10 assists to notch his first double-double since Jan. 18, 2018 against Minnesota. And while the senior had three giveaways, his 3.3 assist-to-turnover margin was a sight to behold. On the season, he has a 2.1 mark, the best of his Terp career.
Jalen Smith is out here making lob dunks look effortless. pic.twitter.com/eUb8l3q4fV— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) February 12, 2020
But outside of Cowan and Eric Ayala — five assists, two turnovers — the Terps struggled immensely to take care of the ball. Non-point guards picked up just five assists and turned the ball over 12 times.
The leaders of the offense facilitated the ball effectively, but the rest of the team had one of its worst nights on the year. And going forward, that could be recipe for disaster.