After a Jalen Smith dunk pushed Maryland ahead by 13 points with just over a minute remaining, all the team needed to do was close out the half on a high note.
On the other end of the court, Michigan’s David DeJulius’ three-pointer clanked off the rim as the Terps seemingly forced a stop. But the referee whistled Anthony Cowan Jr. for a foul, giving the Wolverines three free throw attempts with just 3.7 seconds remaining. DeJulius hit all three, seemingly ending the half with the score 38-28.
But Smith had other plans in mind. He caught a Darryl Morsell inbounds pass and raced upcourt, the 37 milliseconds on the game clock ticking by rapidly. With 1.4 seconds remaining, the Baltimore native stopped his dribble and pulled up over Zavier Simpson, rocketing a triple through the net as the clock hit zeros.
Smith’s buzzer-beater carried No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball the rest of the way, as the team’s lead remained throughout in a 83-70 win over No. 25 Michigan.
“Every shot that leaves my hand always feels good to me,” Smith said. “Not many people get a buzzer-beater in their college careers. Just knowing I got one is an amazing feeling.”
With the victory, the Terps have clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, the program’s first conference title since 2009-10.
Maryland faced an early deficit Sunday, trailing 7-4 with 17 minutes left in the first half after a Franz Wagner jumper.
But unlike their four games where they trailed for over a combined 71 minutes, the Terps wouldn’t trail for long, going on a monster spurt to give the team a lead it’d never relinquish. They led for the final 35 minutes and 11 seconds, in complete control, after only spending a combined 5:51 with the advantage in that prior stretch — which resulted in three losses and concerns about the team sliding late.
With 13:39 left in the first half, Aaron Wiggins picked off a pass and quickly took off up the court. He sprinted to the three-point line before cutting to the top of the key, drawing a pair of Michigan defenders’ focus away from the sideline.
Cutting to the left of Wiggins was Morsell, who called for a pass and took the ball to the rack before lofting it up towards the middle of the paint. Smith came flying in, catching the alley-oop in mid-air before finishing with a layup at the rim to give Maryland a 10-7 lead.
Just over two minutes later, Eric Ayala grabbed a steal and sprinted towards the rack. His layup was too strong, and so was the Ricky Lindo Jr. putback attempt that followed. But Ayala secured the offensive board, and 20 seconds after, he finished at the rim as the shot clock expired.
On the next possession, Ayala crossed up his defender before drilling a mid-range jumper, extending the Terps’ lead to 18-9 thanks to a 14-2 run.
Michigan big man Austin Davis posted-up Jalen Smith down low with six minutes left, attempting to use his weight advantage to back the sophomore into submission. But using his long arms, Smith ripped the ball away from Davis and raced upcourt, looking for an open man.
When he reached half-court, he bounced a pass through a shrinking gap between two Wolverine defenders to Wiggins, who cleanly secured the ball before taking a single dribble towards the rim.
The sophomore jumped when he reached the block, skying high for a two-handed dunk with plenty of authority. Wiggins landed and posed for the cameras, reveling in the Xfinity Center crowd’s eruption after he pushed the Terps to a then-game-high 27-15 lead with 5:50 remaining in the first half.
Michigan cut its deficit to 33-25 with 1:45 left, but Maryland didn’t panic. Head coach Mark Turgeon’s team closed the half on an 8-3 run, beginning with a Morsell three on the right wing of the arc and closing with Smith’s acrobatic triple as the buzzer sounded.
Smith’s dominance didn’t end at halftime. With 18:22 remaining, Cowan drove to the rack and had a chance for a layup. But the senior point guard made a cerebral play, dumping a pass off to Smith inside for a monstrous two-handed jam over Michigan’s Isaiah Livers to push the Terps’ lead to 45-34.
And despite Maryland’s shooting struggles on the year, the team received some timely triples as the second half rolled on. When the Wolverines cut their deficit to eight points with under 15 minutes to go, Ayala answered with a crowd-energizing three-pointer. When the Terp lead fell to seven two minutes later, Wiggins responded with one of his own.
“They got a great three from Eric, and there was another three by Wiggins,” Michigan head coach Juwan Howard said. “Some really hard, tough, tough possessions right there. That really hurt us.”
After Isaiah Livers made a pair of free throws — on a foul call that sent Turgeon into a fiery outburst — Maryland only led 56-53, its smallest advantage since the 13-minute mark of the first half. The Terps got to the line a couple times to push it back to six points, and then Ayala’s best game of the season continued.
The sophomore combo guard sized up Eli Brooks and broke towards the paint, bringing the Michigan guard with him. But Ayala stopped on a dime and stepped back, watching as Brooks stumbled to the floor before launching a three-pointer that hit nothing but net. On the following possession, Ayala hit another triple, giving Maryland a 65-55 lead with 6:54 remaining.
After Ayala missed a pair of free throws with five minutes to play, he secured an offensive rebound before finding Wiggins in the left corner for a game-icing triple.
“That’s when I knew we were gonna win,” Turgeon said. “Eric gets that offensive rebound against two big guys, throws it out to Wigs and he makes the three. And I was like, ‘Alright, it’s our day. We’re gonna win.’”
The defense held the Wolverines scoreless from the 5:08 mark to the 1:23 mark, giving them no chance to mount a comeback late.
Three things to know
1. The Terps are Big Ten champions. They say the third time's the charm, and on its third chance to clinch at least a share of the conference title, Maryland capitalized. After it held a three-game lead with just five to play, a shared championship may not be what many had in mind, but it’s a championship nonetheless.
“Arguably the best Big Ten ever, the deepest Big Ten ever, for our guys to do,what they did is — they’re special. They’re special, they’re tough. And they all stepped up today. Anthony came back to hang a banner. He gets to hang a banner. So just an all around great day for our program.”
The Terps finish the year tied atop the standings with No. 24 Wisconsin, and No. 16 Michigan State could join them with a win later today against No. 19 Ohio State.
2. Anthony Cowan Jr. went out on top. Sunday was senior day for Maryland, marking Cowan’s last game ever at Xfinity Center. As if there was any doubt, the senior point guard made the most of his big moment.
Cowan had 10 points in the first half alone, and he ultimately finished with a game-high 20 on 7-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, eight assists and just three turnovers. And most importantly, the Terps defeated the Wolverines, giving Cowan a title in his final season in College Park.
“Going to your dream school, being here four years, coming back because you wanted to win a championship. It felt like you weren’t done — had unfinished business,” Wiggins said of Cowan. “And you win a championship. It was really big for him. I’m sure he’s probably inside going crazy.
He’s never been one to show a bunch of emotion, so he looks really composed. But I know he’s really excited and happy for himself right now.”
3. Maryland dominated inside. Smith has been one of the best players in all of college basketball this season — he was named one of 10 finalists for the Naismith Trophy earlier in the week. But despite giving up a 30-pound weight advantage to Michigan’s Teske, he had no issues. Smith finished with a 18 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, marking his fourth straight double-double. Teske, meanwhile, had just eight points and three boards.
“Just try to withstand him,” Smith said of his strategy. “Make sure I stand my ground and try not to let him get so many easy baskets. I pretty much tried to gameplan around that, and obviously I stuck to it well.”
And the Terps has a group had a strong advantage on the interior, outrebounding the Wolverines by a 29-22 margin and outscoring them 30-26 in the paint.