No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball pulled off its most wild comeback yet in Minneapolis Wednesday night, with Darryl Morsell sinking a deep triple in the final seconds to seal a 74-73 victory over Minnesota.
Here are our biggest takeaways from the heart-stopping victory.
1. Aaron Wiggins is heating up
When leading scorers Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith struggled last time out against Ohio State, Aaron Wiggins stepped up to the plate to the tune of a career-high 20 points on 7-for-15 shooting from the floor, with six made three-pointers.
And he continued his hot streak Wednesday night, scoring 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field. His only two misses came on attempts from deep, though he made two more triples to even it out.
Much of his shots came at times when the Terps desperately needed a score, with Wiggins playing a big role in keeping his team in this one.
Wiggins received the ball in the paint with over 11 minutes remaining in the second half and got to work. He dribbled around not one, but two Gopher defenders before sailing a teardrop shot over Daniel Oturu — who leads the Big Ten in blocks — to shorten Maryland’s deficit to nine.
And with Maryland down 72-64 with a little over two minutes left to play, Anthony Cowan Jr. passed the ball to the top of the arc, where Wiggins had a split-second of separation. The sophomore guard quickly drained the shot with ease, bringing the Terps within five points.
Wiggins was also stellar on defense, forcing three steals and two blocks.
As Maryland trailed 64-58 with under seven minutes left, he leapt into the air and managed to tip the ball out of the hands of Minnesota’s Gabe Kalscheur. Fellow Terp Darryl Morsell pounced on the ball and sprinted to the other end of the court before throwing down a two-handed jam.
Just about a minute later with the deficit back up to six, Wiggins produced another steal that led to a crucial score. The guard stretched his arms to intercept a Minnesota pass and pushed his dribble up the floor without hesitation. With two Gophers trailing behind him, Wiggins soared up to slam down a dunk with one hand, bringing Maryland back within four.
“Without a doubt [it created a spark],” Wiggins said. “Of course that can get a team going at any time, two steals back-to-back.”
It’s long been thought that Wiggins could be the x-factor this team down the stretch, and he seems to be getting in his groove at just the right time of year.
“Aaron’s a really good player. I thought he was great defensively,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “He can stretch the floor, you think he’s gonna make every shot, so he stretches the floor. But he’s a smart player, and I think he plays within himself and just tries to figure out ways for us to win. ... Aaron’s really playing solid for us.”
2. Maryland’s zone defense played a role in the comeback
After everything was thrown at the Terps in the first half, including a 16-point deficit and Minnesota’s 53.8 shooting percentage from deep, Turgeon switched things up and assembled his team in a 1-3-1 zone.
The team had not gone to this defensive strategy at all in the first half and the Gophers made it pay.
Earlier in the year, Maryland had switched up its defenses a lot more but have gotten away from the tactic more recently. The zone, which took some pressure off of Smith defensively (more on that a bit a later) caused some issues for the Gophers. Smith was not required to matchup one-one-one with Daniel Oturu — Minnesota’s best player who finished with a game-high 28 points to go along with 11 rebounds.
For about the first seven minutes of the second half, Maryland rotated between a 1-3-1, 3-2 and 2-3 zone, giving Minnesota a plethora of looks. During that span, the Gophers went 5-for-10, which was just below their first half shooting percentage of 57 percent. While that number may not jump off the page, the zone gave the Terps to climb back into the game.
From halftime until the 12:55 mark, Maryland outscored Minnesota 17-12 with eight of the Terps’ points deriving from Smith, who was able to contribute due to his ability to stay out of foul trouble in the zone.
“We know when we get hot, we start making shots, we start guarding, we definitely have a lot of spurtability,” Morsell said. “So we’re always confident, trying to stick with it.”
3. Free throw shooting decides games
Though he had an impact in the second half, Smith struggled in the first half to find any offensive rhythm. Most of that had to do with the fact that in his four minutes in the game, the sophomore had been called for three fouls — his first two within a span of 26 seconds and his third coming 22 seconds after he checked back in with 4:15 remaining in the half.
Forward Joshua Tomaic was called upon to replace Smith but also fought foul trouble. With just over four minutes left in the first half, Maryland had three consecutive opportunities from deep on the same possession and missed them all. After the third miss, Tomaic attempted to grab an offensive board and fouled Tre Williams, sending the Gopher to the free throw line with his team now in the bonus.
Minnesota completed the final 4:15 of the half 5-for-7 at the free throw line — and 8-for-11 for the entire first half — while Maryland’s first and only miss at the charity stripe in the first half didn’t come until the final 30 seconds.
But free throws matter the most down the stretch. And Minnesota — though it had an above average shooting night — didn’t finish the job.
The Gophers went 3-of-7 in the second half, including only one make in the final 39 seconds of the game. But their final miss — a Gabe Kalscheur misfire on the one-and-one opportunity that bounced off the front of the rim and into Wiggins’ hands — cost them the most when the Terps took it the other way for a Morsell game-winning three-pointer.
“We got fortunate, they missed two front ended one-and-ones, and Darryl hit the big shot,” Turgeon said.
Maryland, meanwhile, finished 18-of-22 (81.8 percent) from the free throw line, including Cowan’s perfect 6-for-6 line, for an above average performance — the Terps make 75 percent of their attempts.