After Anthony Cowan Jr. hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired, the Xfinity Center crowd’s roar nearly made the announcer’s score update inaudible with 34 seconds to go in Saturday’s game.
“When the shot clock’s going down, you’ve got to shoot it,” Cowan said. “That kind of takes a little pressure off, and I’m able to knock them down.”
The junior guard’s shot pushed No. 24 Maryland’s lead over Penn State from two points to five, the decisive blow in a 66-59 win for the Terps in their Big Ten opener.
“That’s what a great player does” Penn State Coach Pat Chambers said of Cowan, who had nine points in the game’s final 10 minutes. “We knew he was a great player and tried to get the ball out of his hands, but he was very crafty and made some big shots.”
On top of Cowan’s 15 points, Bruno Fernando finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds, making him the first Maryland player to record three consecutive double-doubles since 2011. Fernando notched three double-doubles his entire freshman season; as a sophomore, he has already recorded four.
Jalen Smith led the Terps (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten) with 16 points, and Coach Mark Turgeon said the freshman also had his best game of the year defensively. Smith has scored in double digits in every game of his young career except for Wednesday’s loss to No. 4 Virginia.
“It was just me forgetting the last game because that did have a toll on me, the way I played; I didn’t think I played so well,” Smith said when asked what made the difference in his play Saturday. “I just went into this game forgetting whatever happened in the past.”
The win gave the Terps a successful start to their Big Ten campaign after finishing last season 8-10 in conference play and being knocked out in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. Against Penn State, Maryland never had a double-digit lead, and the Nittany Lions continued to challenge the Terps, who entered the game coming off the emotional loss to Virginia.
“I had a lot of conversations with some players Thursday just trying to get them back mentally to where we needed to be,” Turgeon said. “I thought mentally we were pretty good today considering what we went through.”
The two teams played an ugly first half. Penn State (4-3, 0-1) made just one of its first 12 field goal attempts, before it warmed up as the half progressed and finished the period shooting 42 percent. Penn State committed 16 fouls and Maryland had 10 turnovers in the half. All eight of Fernando’s first-half points came from the free throw line. Maryland missed 11 of 13 field goal attempts to close out the first half and trailed at intermission, 31-30.
But Fernando dunked at the start of the second half to give the Terps the lead. Then Smith hit a three-pointer followed by a layup. Cowan scored off a fast break, capping a 9-2 Maryland run and forcing Penn State to take a timeout.
Smith had just six points in the Virginia game and didn’t play much in the second half when Turgeon opted to go with a smaller lineup. Saturday, Smith guarded Lamar Stevens, Penn State’s best player. Stevens missed his first four shots but finished with 19 points on 24 shots.
“That’s a huge deal today, what Stix did,” Turgeon said of Smith. “Let’s not take that lightly. That’s a heck of a player that he was guarding. For Stix to take that next step for us was really big.”
Turnovers continue to be an issue for the Terps, who finished the game with 17. In the loss against Virginia, Maryland had 14 turnovers compared to Virginia’s two.
“We’ve got to fix it,” Turgeon said. “If we’re going to be any good on the road, we’ve got to fix it.”
Eight games into the season, Maryland has primarily relied on a rotation of six players: usual starters Fernando, Smith, Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell and Cowan, in addition to Aaron Wiggins off the bench. Those Terps had all averaged more than 24 minutes per game before Saturday. Behind that group, no Maryland player has averaged more than 13 minutes a game.
On Saturday, the top six all played at least 23 minutes, and those players were the only ones on Maryland’s team to attempt a shot.
“We wanted to win the game,” Turgeon said. “That’s what’s important. Our locker room is really happy right now. So we coached to win the game today.”