Jalen Smith’s career night spearheads second half comeback win for Maryland basketball

Leading Northwestern by six with 1:57 remaining, Maryland basketball (15-4, 5-3 B1G) center Jalen Smith rose up from the right wing and confidently buried a wide-open triple to put Maryland on top 72-63. After burying the shot, Smith let out an emphatic scream, a rare show of emotion from the seemingly reserved sophomore big man.

Capping off an impressive 7-0 solo run, the three displayed Jalen Smith’s offensive versatility and provided another reminder of his ability to make clutch shots down the stretch. Those seven points put the finishing touches on a dominant second half in which “Stix” tallied 21 of his career-high 25 points. His outstanding second-half performance cemented Maryland’s first true road win of the season, 77-66.

While Jalen Smith spearheaded the comeback, the guard tandem of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Aaron Wiggins also stepped up, combining for 19 second-half points. Wiggins notched a career-high 17 points, including five three pointers, also a career-high. Maryland’s consistently from the line 26-29 overall and 17-19 in the second half was another important catalyst in the victory. 

Despite the offense firing on all cylinders in the second half, the first half was a much different story. Maryland couldn’t generate much inside, and was stagnant on several possessions, forcing the Terps in to contested jumpers. Perimeter shooting was a theme throughout the first half for the Terps, with 17 of their 25 shots coming from behind the arc. A large portion of the offensive struggles came from the starters, who combined to go just 1-15 from the field in the first half. 

Compounding their offensive issues in the first half, Maryland’s defense struggled in both man-to-man and the 3-2 zone. Starting the game on a 10-0 run, the Wildcats came out of the gates scorching hot and continued that trend for the remainder of the first half. Northwestern’s quick ball movement for most of the period, forced the Terps defenders to make quick decisions and move out of their rotations.

Miller Kopp, who entered Tuesday’s game shooting 40% from long-range, led the Wildcats with 11 first-half points and two threes. Leading by 16 at the break, the Wildcats shot 60% from the field overall and 67% from behind the arc, making the Terps pay for every mistake defensively. It showed in the box score, as the Wildcats led at the half 36-20.

However, the second half, Maryland came out a completely different team, living up to their talent thanks to intensity on both ends of the floor. In the opening possession of the second half, Wiggins confidently buried an open three, energizing the Terps bench. While Northwestern guard A.J. Turner bounced back with a three his own, it was apparent the Terps were playing with more confidence.

Converting their increased confidence into aggressiveness, Maryland began to force the Wildcats into foul trouble.

With 12:36 remaining, Cowan drew a foul driving to the basket, putting the Terps in the bonus for the remainder of the game. In the ensuing four minutes, Maryland’s aggressiveness and athleticism propelled them on a 15-5 run to take the lead, 58-55. During the latter stages of that run, the trio of Cowan, Wiggins and Jalen Smith took over.

First, Wiggins confidently buried his fourth three, bringing it to a one possession game once again. On the ensuing possession, Jalen Smith emphatically swatted Pat Spencer’s driving layup. Off the block, the Terps were off in transition and Cowan buried a three from the right-wing to give Maryland its first lead of the game — sending the bench into raptures.

Sensing Maryland was taking over, Northwestern head coach Chris Collins called timeout. Despite the timeout, Maryland maintained momentum with Jalen Smith continuing to dominate putting down a thunderous jam on a feed from guard Eric Ayala. 

Northwestern continued to battle, tying the score at 61 with 6:38 remaining, setting up an exciting seven minutes. A minute and a half later, with Maryland ahead 65-61 Jalen Smith picked up his fourth foul, forcing head coach Mark Turgeon to take him out. Right after, Northwestern guard Ryan Young beat forward Ricky Lindo Jr. down low with a nice move cutting the deficit to 65-63.

Sensing he needed his anchor down low, coach Turgeon called timeout with 3:44 remaining and brought Jalen Smith back in. Upon returning, Jalen Smith provided another glimpse of his growth and maturation playing with four fouls maintaining discipline on both ends of the floor. After the timeout, he immediately made his presence felt with an impressive follow through traffic to extend the Terps lead to 67-63, the catalyst for his 7-0 run that iced the game.

Hitting the road for another tough road test against on Sunday against Indiana, Maryland will look to put together a complete 40-minute performance and secure its second true road win of the season.