Michigan guard Mike Smith, rose up behind the screen and buried the left elbow three over the outstretched hands of Darryl Morsell.
That three pushed Michigan’s lead to double-digits with 3:36 remaining, simultaneously delivering a knockout blow to Maryland’s comeback hopes.
It was another shining example of the graduate transfer’s immense impact on the game with 18 points and a Big Ten Tournament record 15 assists in Michigan’s (20-3, 14-3 B1G) 79-66 win over Maryland (16-13, 9-11 B1G).
“The little point guard was terrific,” head coach Mark Turgeon said of Smith. “He was terrific the whole game and he totally controlled the game.”
Franz Wagner and Eli Brooks each contributed 16 points finding success from behind the arc with six combined triples. The contest was a chippy affair throughout including the ejection of Michigan head coach Juwan Howard during a timeout with 10:44 remaining.
Eric Ayala led the Terps with 19 points, while Morsell added 16 and Wiggins chipped in 11. The Terps shot 8-26 from three and 3-16 in the second half, struggling to connect from deep as the Wolverines employed a zone difference at several different occasions throughout.
“We did shoot some quick ones in the shot clock six feet beyond the three-point line and we have enough trouble making them on the three-point line, so that’s disappointing,” Turgeon said. “We also had a lot of really good looks and we just didn’t make them. We put our heads down because of it.”
The first half was an offensive shootout as both teams struggled to guard and limit the success of the opponent. Maryland’s offense brought the first early surge making six out of its first nine shots.
Ayala and Donta Scott connected from deep, while Morsell and Galin Smith connected inside the three-point line giving the Terps an early 17-9 advantage. Morsell’s transition lay-in was the highlight as the ball never touched the ground and the senior laid it in plus the foul on the feed from Jairus Hamilton.
However, Michigan mounted its response with a 6-0 run catalyzed by Austin Davis and Wagner, as Davis helped the Wolverines get second-chance opportunities offensively. With 10:15 remaining in the first half, Hunter Dickinson picked up his second foul of the game, which forced Howard to send the freshman big man to the bench.
As the Wolverines didn’t have their primary rim protector in the game, Maryland’s offense put on an offensive clinic making eight consecutive shots pushing its lead to 36-24 with 4:45 remaining in the first half.
Hamilton and Ayala connected on a trio of triples spacing the floor. Ayala also found success driving downhill and attacking the basket. However, the biggest highlight reel of that stretch came when Wiggins blew by Davis and levitated over Wagner throwing down a one-handed lefty slam with authority.
Trailing by double-digits with less than five minutes remaining in the first half, the Wolverines mounted their response orchestrating a 16-2 run making six of their last seven shots of the half. During that period, Morsell, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, wasn’t on the floor as he picked up his second foul.
“We just wasn’t locked in, going under some ball screens,” Morsell said. “It was all us for real, making mental errors. I think personally it all started with me, I shouldn’t have picked up that second foul. I think that was a huge impact on the game.”
Smith was the catalyst for the Wolverines’ comeback with four of his nine first-half assists during that period feeding Brandon Johns Jr. and Wagner with some flashy passes giving the Wolverines a 40-38 lead at the break, despite trailing for most of the half.
Both teams were extremely efficient offensively as the Terps shot 62.5% while the Wolverines shot 50%. The biggest difference in the opening 20 minutes was Michigan’s success on the offensive glass grabbing seven offensive rebounds, while Maryland managed just one.
Michigan’s run continued into the second half keyed by both Smith and Dickinson who combined to score the team’s first nine points. Dickinson established low-post positioning inside and converted from the paint, while Smith showed his shooting touch from the outside.
After Michigan built its largest lead of the contest to that point, Morsell responded with an individual 5-0 run that trimmed the deficit to four. However, a pair of triples from Brooks and Wagner allowed Michigan to extend the lead to double-digits for the first time.
The ensuing timeout, tempers flared as Howard was ejected and awarded a double technical, while Turgeon was given a technical. Maryland responded first with a 5-0 run out of the timeout as Wiggins converted a pair of baskets.
“We came back to the huddle and we were just focused on basketball,” Morsell said. “[Coach Turgeon] always fights for us, so he wanted us to rally and react and keep fighting and make it a game.”
Soon after, the Terps offense struggled to execute in the subsequent possessions, missing three straight from behind the arc part of their 11 straight misses from there in the second half. In response, the Wolverines executed an 8-0 run in a 2:26 span regaining control establishing a 13-point lead with 7:23 remaining.
Maryland mounted its last response with a 7-0 run, but Michigan responded once again led by Brooks and Smith quelling the Terps’ comeback hopes.
Now, the Terps will stay in Indianapolis and await to see their NCAA Tournament seed on Sunday night at 7 p.m.
“To have Selection Sunday and our team’s gonna be called, I think six weeks ago no one would’ve believed that except us coaches and us players,” Turgeon said.