No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball had found itself in a familiar position down 16 points with 9:40 remaining in the game.
Sophomore forward Jalen Smith received the ball in the low post and went to work with a powerful spin move that resulted in a bucket and a foul. After completing the and-one, Aaron Wiggins added a pair of free throws on the following possession. Over a minute later, Smith added another bucket to complete an 8-0 run and put the score at 66-57 with No. 24 Michigan State still with a slight lead.
But the Spartans never wavered. Cassius Winston controlled the offense and passed the ball to Aaron Henry, who attempted a tough baseline jump shot. The Spartan missed, but his team secured the offensive rebound and made the Terps pay with a Winston three-pointer, silencing the Xfinity Crowd that was anticipating another historic Maryland comeback.
In the highly anticipated matchup, the Spartans had a counter-punch for every Terp combination, resulting in a 78-66 Maryland loss — its first defeat at Xfinity Center this season.
“We never ever had control of the game,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Late in the game we started switching ball screens and we were better. We got some stops, but then we couldn’t rebound out of it.”
Similar to Maryland’s last opponent in Minnesota, the Spartans began the game as the aggressors, hitting four of their first five shots — three of which were layups — to lead to an early 9-0 run to start the game.
The Terps, on the other hand, struggled to score from the opening tip, missing their first three shots and not getting their first points until a Darryl Morsell jump shot nearly 2:30 into the game.
Michigan State’s hot shooting pushed it to a 17-5 lead at the under-16 timeout with the team making seven consecutive shots, including back-to-back three pointers from Aaron Henry and Winston within 40 seconds.
The Spartans’ third missed shot of the night didn’t come until 13:17 remained in the first half, and it turned into a transition opportunity for the Terps.
Morsell grabbed the rebound and threw it to Smith streaking down the court, who caught the ball with only his right hand under the basketball and slung it to Donta Scott in the corner.
The freshman, who had just scored his first points on the prior possession, swished his first three of the night, sending the Xfinity Center crowd up in a fury and capping off a 7-0 run for his team that brought the Michigan State’s lead to single digits with over 13 minutes remaining in the half.
During that run, the Terps locked in defensively and held the Spartans without a point for nearly two minutes and without a field goal for over five minutes.
Ricky Lindo Jr. — who was 3-of-4 from deep this season coming in — capped off the run with three pointer with just over 10 minutes left in the half. But from there, Maryland fell apart offensively.
The Terps missed their next seven shots and went scoreless for 6:25. Part of the reason was their three turnovers during that span, including an Anthony Cowan Jr. pass to opponent Kyle Ahrens and resulted in Winston, who finished with a game-high 20 points to go along with six assists and seven turnovers, making his third shot of the night.
While the Terps’ offense hit a road bump, Michigan State capitalized by going on a 9-0 run in a long span of nearly seven minutes to take a 32-23 lead with just under four minutes to play.
Neither team was able to put together a run in the next few minutes. But with the opportunity to cut the Spartans’ lead to six, Cowan possessed the ball in the closing seconds of the half.
The senior guard scored a twisting layup but was called for a traveling violation for his second turnover of the night. Following the inbound pass, Winston took a few dribbles past Cowan and heaved a half-court shot that hit nothing but net, giving his team a 40-29 lead going into the break.
“Yeah. That’s my fault. That’s my fault on that one,” Cowan said.
Just as it did at the start of the game, Michigan State put Maryland on its heels to begin the second half.
The Terps attempted to soften the blow by going to Smith in the post about three minutes into the second half, but Spartan Xavier Tillman limited the Maryland big man and forced him into a tough jump shot that clanked off the backboard.
Smith’s shot was immediately taken the other way by the Spartans, who capitalized with a Tillman layup for a 49-33 advantage — their largest lead of the night.
“We just let the game slip out of our hands,” Smith said. “And we dug a ditch for our self.”
However, the Spartans had every answer for the Terps when they attempted to strike a run. Cowan made a layup with over 17 minutes remaining and backpedaled down the court saying “Let’s go man. Come on” in an attempt to inspire his team.
Though it only motivated Winston, who hustled down the court and swished a three-pointer to keep the Terps distanced.
With 11 minutes remaining, Terp guard Eric Ayala passed the ball to Donta Scott on the wing. The freshman set his feet and let the shot fly, erupting the bench and the crowd as it sunk through the basket.
Michigan State continued its steady approach and answered with a pick-and-roll with stars Tillman and Winston. Though Tillman missed the initial shot, the Spartans secured the offensive rebound and passed it to Rocket Watts, who responded to Scott’s three-pointer with one of his own.
Nearly two minutes later near with 4:30 left in the Big Ten matchup, the Spartans attempted to close out the Terps on their home floor with a 5-0 run in a span of about 40 seconds.
Maryland tried to make to make more of its magic in the final two minutes, turning the Spartans over twice in a matter of 30 seconds, but to no avail. And instead of confetti trickling down from the rafters for a Big Ten title, fans trickled out of the Xfinity Center with one minute remaining, understanding their team hadn’t surmounted another double-digit deficit.
Three things to know
1. The Terps missed a prime opportunity to claim a share of the Big Ten title. With a win tonight, Maryland would have been able to claim its first conference title since 2009-10 and Mark Turgeon’s first as the face of the program. But the team was unable to do so and will have to rely on the final two games of the season to get some hardware.
“Our guys know what’s at stake,” Turgeon said. “And that’s a lot on a team.”
2. Maryland is no longer undefeated at home. Coming into Saturday’s game, the Terps were perfect at Xfinity Center. Despite a few ups and downs throughout the course of the year, Maryland managed to only lose away from College Park in true road contests. But that streak was broken against Michigan State, as the team now drops to a 15-1 record at home.
“They were ready to play,” Turgeon said. “They deserved to win, they were the best team.”
3. Anthony Cowan Jr. passed big names with his minutes tonight. Cowan, who made his program-record 127th consecutive start earlier this week against Minnesota, continued to climb the leader boards Saturday night with his time on the court.
The Bowie, Maryland, native, who was sporting a Len Bias jersey earlier today during College GameDay, logged 36 minutes tonight, passing Bias (4,302) and Steve Blake (4,312) placing him second on the list of career minutes. Cowan has now played 4,321 minutes in his four years as a Terp and trails only Greivis Vasquez (4,568).