MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With Maryland struggling to stop Minnesota’s half-court attack, coach Mark Turgeon turned to a zone defense for a momentum shift.
Anthony Cowan Jr. ably carried the Terrapins the rest of the way.
Cowan matched his career high with 27 points and freshman Jalen Smith pitched in a season-best 21 points and eight rebounds, leading Maryland’s rally past Minnesota on Tuesday night for a 82-67 victory fueled by sharp free-throw shooting.
“We’re definitely getting better. Coach wants us to be the most improved team in the Big Ten,” said Cowan, one of only two upperclassmen on scholarship on a roster with three freshmen among the top six players. “I’m happy where our team is right now.”
Bruno Fernando added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (13-3, 4-1), who went 24 for 27 from the foul line. Cowan, who also had six rebounds and five assists, made all 10 of his free throws. Maryland finished the game with a 21-6 run over the final seven minutes and shot 16 for 23 from the floor after halftime.
Amir Coffey had 16 points and five assists for the Gophers (12-3, 2-2), whose six-game winning streak ended with a clank. They missed 14 of their 23 foul shots. Coffey was 3 for 8, and senior power forward Jordan Murphy was 3 for 9.
“Anytime you shoot 39 percent from the free-throw line, you better be even better defensively, and we allowed that to kind of zap our energy,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said.
The Gophers had a lead as big as 44-36 early in the second half and were still in front as late as the 13-minute mark, but Cowan, the junior point guard on one of the most inexperienced teams in the country, steered the Terrapins to a steely win that will look good in front of the NCAA
Tournament selection committee in two months. Cowan had 23 points in the second half.
“He likes getting in the lane, drawing fouls, so with that kind of quickness you’ve got to try to keep that guy in front of you,” Gophers guard Dupree McBrayer said, “but it’s so hard because he’s so fast.”
Smith zipped a cross-court pass out of a double team down low to find Eric Ayala for a 3-pointer and a 67-61 lead for Maryland, which Turgeon declared the play of the game. About three minutes later, Smith put the seal on the victory with a driving dunk for a 75-67 advantage.
“By far his best effort,” Turgeon said, “and he’s had a lot of really good games.”
The Terrapins, who were 2-8 on the home courts of their opponents last season, have won consecutive road games for the first time in nearly two years since victories at Minnesota and Ohio State on Jan. 28 and 31, 2017.
“We just keep getting better. Don’t sleep on the fact that when we made our run we had four freshmen on the floor,” Turgeon said.
Gabe Kalscheur scored 13 points, Daniel Oturu had 11 points and 11 rebounds and McBrayer added 10 points for the Gophers, who didn’t look panicked when the Terrapins switched to their 2-3 zone but were unable to knock down the open shots they had.
Kalscheur, who was just 6 for 34 from behind the arc over the last seven games, made three of five from long range. The most clutch of those was at the 7:50 mark, cutting Maryland’s lead to 62-61, but the Terrapins snapped right back with seven straight points and this time the Gophers didn’t counter.
“They put us in a few binds, and we pretty much didn’t handle the last three minutes of the game the way we should have,” Murphy said, sitting next to McBrayer in the interview room. “As two veterans who have been here for four years, we’ve got to do a better job of being captains and settling everybody down.”
Six consecutive Big Ten teams were just below the cut in voting for the latest edition of the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska and Maryland finished 27th through 32nd to give the conference 10 teams with votes from the 64-person panel this week.
Maryland: After missing the NCAA Tournament last season after a three-year streak of making it, this promising nucleus can only grow in confidence from here. Cowan continues to be the catalyst.
“When you’ve got a lot of good players out there like we do, it opens up the floor for Anthony,” Turgeon said.
Minnesota: Coming off a rare road win at rival Wisconsin last week, the Gophers bricked away a chance to build some momentum going into the heart of the Big Ten schedule. They entered the night with the fourth-worst free-throw percentage (65.9) in the Big Ten with the second-most attempts.
“We shoot ’em every day. We practice ’em,” Pitino said. “Just keep them as confident as we possibly can.”
Maryland: Returns home to play 22nd-ranked Indiana on Friday night.
Minnesota: Stays home to face Rutgers on Saturday afternoon.
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