With 24 seconds remaining and No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball down 73-69 to Minnesota, Donta Scott secured the rebound off Marcus Carr’s missed free throw, giving the ball to Anthony Cowan Jr., who raced to the top of the arc before launching a three.
His shot was off — one of his eight misses from deep on the night — but Jalen Smith came flying in for a putback dunk to cut Maryland’s deficit to just two.
And when Minnesota missed yet another front end of a one-and-one seconds later, Aaron Wiggins raced up the court. He dumped the ball off to Cowan on the arc, setting everything up for the senior point guard to make another signature moment.
But instead, Cowan pump-faked and drove towards the rim before passing back to Wiggins. The sophomore tried to get space for a three himself, but instead passed the ball off to Darryl Morsell, who was right inside the Minnesota logo in the center of the court when he threw up a prayer with 4.1 seconds remaining.
The ball hung for seemingly ever before rattling home, sending the Terps into jubilation. As the bench howled, Smith raised his high school teammate up into the air in celebration of Maryland’s 74-73 comeback victory after trailing for 37 minutes and 50 seconds straight Wednesday.
“I knew there was no chance he was going to miss it, if it was that deep especially,” Wiggins said. “That thing was money. I turned around, and I just saw him on the other end of the court with Stix holding him like a baby. It was insane.”
The Terps have now overcome deficits of 14 points or more four times this season, a whopping three of which have been in the second half.
“We struggled the whole night. All our shots were in and out,” Morsell said. “Anthony struggled, Jalen got in foul trouble. We just kept fighting. We were in the locker room at halftime. We said we’ve been there before — we’ve been down 16 at the half. So we were optimistic, we had faith. Once again, by the grace of God, we win that game.”
With 16:02 remaining in the first half, the referees whistled Smith for an over-the-back foul, his second personal of the game. The call animated head coach Mark Turgeon — who vowed to fight for his guys after the Ohio State game a few days prior — and led to a technical foul being assessed.
Maryland, which was already on the wrong end of a 9-0 run, wasn’t fired up. Instead, the Golden Gophers’ spurt continued.
After Carr made one of the technical free throws, Daniel Oturu made a midrange jumper to extend Minnesota’s lead to 11 points. A Scott layup ended a three-minute Maryland scoring drought, but Oturu nailed a triple from the top of the key to put his team up 18-6. Then Turgeon finally called timeout.
Maryland didn’t lose the game in the first six minutes of action, but the run served as a microcosm for what the entire night would bring — until the very end. In the first half alone, the Terps shot just 31.3 percent from the floor and went 2-of-14 from three-point territory.
After Smith was sidelined after picking up his second foul, the Terps struggled to get anything going offensively. The sophomore big checked out at the 16:02 mark and the team abandoned its interior offense with Chol Marial and Joshua Tomaic splitting time at center.
With Smith on the bench, Maryland went 4-of-24 from the floor — including a 1-of-12 stretch from deep. When Smith finally came back in, it took just 22 seconds for him to get called for his third foul, which caused an uproar from Turgeon and the Maryland bench. Going into halftime, the Terps trailed 47-31.
“It’s a frustrating thing. You want to be out there to support your team,” Smith said. “But I had to roll with the punches and just be that supportive role on the bench at that point in time and just keep giving my teammates confidence. Even though the refs weren’t calling it our way, the ball wasn’t bouncing our way, so we just had to keep fighting.”
Coming out of the break, though, Smith found his groove. After being held to just two points in four first-half minutes, he started the second with ferocity. Scott got things going with five points in the first 93 seconds, cutting Minnesota’s lead to 11 points. It ballooned back to 16 over the next two and a half minutes, and that’s when Smith broke out.
Posting-up down low, Smith took a power dribble to his right into the middle of the paint and lofted a left-handed hook shot over Oturu for the easy basket. In the next three minutes, he scored six more points, helping bring the Terps within nine points.
“We learned a little bit about ourselves” Turgeon said of the struggles with Smith sidelined. “Then we changed the way we play. We started posting Six up — we never do that. And I was just like, ‘Alright, we’re going to figure something out about ourselves tonight.’ And we did it, and it worked.”
With 8:39 left and trailing 64-52, the Terps needed a spark. And as they’ve done so many times this season, they went on a monster run.
Scott hit a jumper to get the ball rolling, and with 8:09 left, Smith caught a pass at the logo before launching a deep three over a Cowan screen. He watched as his line drive ripped through the nylon to cut the deficit to nine points.
Down 66-60 with 5:35 left, Wiggins intercepted a Minnesota pass and raced down the floor, running past one Golden Gopher defender while slamming a dunk over the other, a one-handed finish to cut the deficit to just four points.
A pair of free throws from Oturu extended the Golden Gophers’ lead to 72-64 with 2:06 to go, and then Wiggins immediately responded. He caught a Cowan pass at the top of the key, stepping back behind the arc to launch a triple, holding his shot as it sank through to cut the Terps’ deficit to five.
Just over a minute later, a pair of Cowan free throws cut it to three with 45 seconds to play.
And the chance was there for Maryland to tie. Smith, whose 12 points were huge in the team’s comeback efforts, had a relatively open three on the wing with 42 seconds left that would have tied the score.
But his shot rattled in-and-out, and the Golden Gophers had plenty of opportunities to ice the game from the free throw line — they missed three of their final four shots from the charity stripe in the final 39 seconds of the game. But they couldn’t execute, allowing the Terps to steal a win in Minneapolis.
“With Stix’s foul troubles and everything, just I didn’t know if we were ever gonna ever gonna get over the hump,” Turgeon said. “But we got a team of fighters, they just kept fighting, kept fighting.”
Three things to know
1. Anthony Cowan Jr. struggled on a historic night. Wednesday’s game marked a milestone for Cowan, who broke the school record for most consecutive games started with 127. But coming off a subpar performance against Ohio State on Sunday, the senior point guard struggled again. In the first half, he went just 2-of-8 from the floor while missing all three of his three-point attempts.
And despite finishing with an efficient nine assists to just one turnover, he wound up shooting 2-of-15 from the floor while missing all eight three-point attempts.
2. Minnesota’s stars showed out. Coming into play, Maryland had two main keys defensively — stopping Carr and Oturu. On the year, they were averaging a combined 35.1 points per game, making them one of the most dangerous duos in the conference. And against the Terps. they could not be stopped. In the first half alone, Carr and Oturu both scored 15 points apiece, and they finished with 47, which was 64.4 percent of Minnesota’s team total.
3. Terps controlled the glass. Despite the Terps’ leader on the boards in Smith only playing four minutes in the first half, Maryland controlled the glass. The Terps outrebounded the Golden Gophers 45-36, including a 20-12 offensive rebounding advantage. Smith finished with a team-high 12 rebounds — all of which came in the second half — and Morsell secured nine boards of his own.