No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball’s last game didn’t go as planned, but the team pulled out a late-night victory Wednesday, erasing a 17-point lead and defeating Minnesota 74-73.
The Terps can thank Darryl Morsell, who hit the game-winning three-pointer on the team’s last possession to secure the win. Prior to his make with one second remaining in the game, Maryland had only led for 23 seconds.
Head coach Mark Turgeon’s squad had to fight off a lights-out shooting performance from the Golden Gophers, who shot 57.1 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from deep in the first half to take a 16-point lead into halftime.
But with the tenacious comeback effort, Maryland is back in the win-column with three games remaining in the regular season.
No. 24 Michigan State is the first team on the Terps’ slate with College GameDay in attendance — it’s the first time the show has been in College Park since 2005.
“It’s a great day for our program,” Turgeon said Friday. “We’ve earned it — that’s what’s pretty cool about it — by our play.”
The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET and will televised on ESPN.
What happened last time
It wasn’t too long ago that these two met.
Back on Feb. 15, the Terps traveled to East Lansing, Michigan and battled the then-unranked Spartans.
Maryland bounced out to an early advantage, leading by as much as 15 in the first half. But Michigan State made a huge run of its own.
With 40 seconds remaining in the half, Maryland guard Eric Ayala drove to the hoop, but his shot was swatted away. The Spartans turned their defense into offense, sprinting the other way and feeding the ball to Xavier Tillman, who was a monster against Maryland with 18 points and 11 rebounds. The Michigan State forward scored a layup over Donta Scott, closing the final three minutes of the first half on a crucial 7-0 run.
The Terps, on the other hand, completed the half without scoring for nearly three minutes, but still led 39-31.
Michigan State’s streak didn’t stop there. The Spartans went on a 9-2 run in the second half to finally cut Maryland’s lead down to one point with just under 14 minutes remaining. The two Big Ten teams continued to trade blows until the final 3:08 of play when Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan Jr. took over.
Smith made his only three-pointer of the night, cutting the Terps deficit to four points. Cowan immediately followed, hitting three-straight three pointers to not only regain the lead, but secure the victory for the Terps.
The senior guard also made a pair of free throws to cap off Maryland’s 11-0 run to end the game.
What’s happened since
As previously mentioned, these two teams matched up nearly two weeks ago. While the Terps have played three games in between meetings, the Spartans have only played two.
With the win in East Lansing, Maryland’s win streak improved to eight — its longest since joining the conference in 2014-15.
Maryland then overcame a lapse in the second half against Northwestern at Xfinity Center with the help of Smith, who dominated the Wildcats for the second time this season. The sophomore from Baltimore had 22 points to go along with a career-high 19 rebounds in a 76-67 victory.
Following the win, the Terps attempted to extend their win streak to double digits in Columbus, but fell short for their first loss since Jan. 14. And for the first time all season, Smith and Cowan struggled in the same game, combining for 18 points — their lowest combined point total all season — on 8-of-20 shooting.
As mentioned above, the Terps most recently beat Minnesota in the only regular-season meeting between the two programs.
As for Michigan State, the team is on a two-game winning streak.
The Spartans quickly redeemed themselves five days after facing the Terps, blowing out Nebraska 86-65 in Lincoln. Per usual, senior guard Cassius Winston scored a team-high 23 points with six assists, while Tillman secured a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
But Michigan State also received a heft contribution from forward Gabe Brown. The sophomore, who didn’t score against the Terps on Feb. 15, had a career-high 17 points against the Cornhuskers.
Earlier this week, Michigan State hosted No. 18 Iowa and its standout forward Luka Garza.
Though they didn’t limit Garza, who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, the Spartans pulled out the victory behind a balanced scoring attack. They had three players — Aaron Henry, Rocket Watts and Winston — finish with 17 points on more, while Tillman didn’t have his best day with only six points on 2-of-4 shooting.
With the win, Michigan State has won three of its last four, with its only loss coming at the hands of the Terps earlier this month.
“Michigan State — that name speaks for itself. That’s Michigan State,” Ayala said. “We’ve got to go out there and play our best game.”
Three things to watch for
1. Will the Terps grab a share of the Big Ten regular season title? As previously mentioned, Maryland has the chance to take a piece of the conference’s regular season title if it’s able to win Saturday. The Terps currently have a two-game lead in front of four other Big Ten teams — Illinois, Wisconsin, No. 16 Penn State and Michigan State.
Maryland’s last regular season title, which was shared with Duke, came in 2009-10. The last time the Terps won a conference title outright was in 2001-02 — the season they walked away from as national champions.
“Of course you have that thought creeping in and you’re excited about that — I mean you see the excitement around College Park coming into this game,” Wiggins said. “But we’ve got to make sure we come focussed, ready to play. They’ve got a really good team, and they’re not going to lay down for us.”
It would also be the first time Turgeon has won a regular season title with the Terps.
“That share — it would be historical,” Ayala said. “I’d be happy for Coach Turgeon to get that.”
2. Will Anthony Cowan Jr. bounce back after two “non-Cowan” performances? Cowan — more recently dubbed “Ironman” after a program-record 127th consecutive start — has been solid for the Terps this year with his play. He has come up clutch — such as against Illinois and Michigan State — and been the senior leader the team has needed this season.
But the Bowie, Maryland, guard has struggled these past two games from a scoring perspective and shown signs of frustration. Against Ohio State and Minnesota, Cowan has scored a total of 20 points on 3-of-19 shooting from the field and 0-of-9 from beyond the arc — though his free throw numbers have been steady (14-of-15 from the charity stripe). He has continued to distribute the ball when his shot hasn’t fallen though, racking up 16 assists and only four turnovers in the past two games.
Things don’t get much easier for him as he is set to face a few great defensive players in Watts, who guarded Cowan for the majority of the time in the first matchup, and Winston.
3. What did Maryland learn about Winston and Tillman from the first matchup? In the first meeting, Winston and Tillman — the duo that is clearly Michigan State’s heartbeat — came together to score 32 of Michigan State’s 60 points. Tillman also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, marking the first time Smith has been outrebounded since Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp (11) and Garza (13) on Jan. 10.
“When they grab a rebound — whether it’s off a make or a miss — they are pushing it down the court,” Wiggins said. “So I mean, one thing is we have to make sure we’re [doing] really well is transition defense — getting back on defense, stopping Cassius Winston.”
In an attempt to limit Winston, Turgeon threw multiple defenders at him, including Aaron Wiggins, Morsell, Ayala and Cowan. Though it didn’t slow down his scoring, their defense forced him into five turnovers, and Turgeon could elect to do the same against the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Saturday.
ESPN BPI: Maryland has 56.5 percent chance to win.
KenPom: Maryland 70, Michigan State 67 (Maryland has 62 percent chance to win)
Me: Maryland 65, Michigan State 61