Jalen Smith’s late heroics save No. 9 Maryland basketball from home upset

Center Jalen Smith has been on a tear recently, and the entire Maryland basketball team has benefited in a huge way. Tuesday night against Nebraska, the big man would tally one of the team’s three double-doubles in exciting fashion — on a perfectly placed lob from Anthony Cowan. Smith earned his seventh straight double-double in just 15 minutes of play, a feat Donta Scott and Cowan would later join him in. 

Appropriately, given Smith’s tremendous play in his previous six games, Maryland’s matchup against Nebraska was dedicated to “Stix”. Flaunting Smith-themed gear, fans wore goggles and had glow sticks on hand. The sophomore center has been the constant throughout Maryland’s late season success, and continued to do so on his own night. Stix scored 16 points and grabbed 13 boards in a sluggish Maryland win. In an incredibly underwhelming showing, the Terps squeaked by Nebraska by a 72-70 score line. 

“It definitely was a weird locker room,” said Cowan. “We didn’t know whether to celebrate or really get down on ourselves. But at the end of the day it’s the Big Ten, every game is going to be difficult.” 

After just 14 minutes of first half play, Smith was one point shy of securing his seventh straight double-double. Cowan also held his own weight on the offensive end, scoring 11 points on just one field goal. The senior tallied most of his points at the free throw line, drawing fouls behind the three-point line and around the rim. Despite a characteristic slow start by Maryland, the Terps were far too talented to allow the Huskers to stretch the lead beyond two points. A 27% shooting performance by Nebraska guaranteed a 13-point lead for Maryland entering the final period. 

“We were really good from the eight minute mark to the three minute mark,” said Coach Mark Turgeon. “We got some stops [and] our zone was good for us” 

At the onset of the second half, the Terps looked in form to put away what seemed like a dominant victory. Instead, Nebraska caught Maryland sleeping and moved the ball at a rapid pace on the offensive end. Thirteen minutes of attacking the basket, timely shot conversions and careless ball security by the Terps allowed the Cornhuskers to cut an early 14-point lead to just two. With seven minutes remaining, the Terps regrouped and looked to recapture a more comfortable lead. 

Enter Eric Ayala. 

“He didn’t hesitate and he shot with confidence.” said Turgeon 

The guard has struggled with his shot, but showed up big in a late 10-0 run. The sophomore drained two crucial threes to give Maryland a 64-54 lead with just four minutes remaining. By the end of the half, he totaled 16 total points on a 50% clip from the field.

The Cornhuskers, however, refused to give up. Following its run, Maryland only converted three more field goals in the final four minutes. Hanif Cheatham led the Cornhuskers’ final push, scoring seven of Nebraska’s 14 final points. Thanks to Cheatham and his rejuvenated supporting cast, a 10-point lead got cut to just one. 

But Smith made the night his own. With 11 seconds left, Cam Mack had a chance to complete Nebraska’s comeback and seal an unlikely victory. Smith met Mack at the rim and contest a crafty layup attempt. After his lone block, “Stix” sealed the win after making a free throw. On “Stix” night, there was no stopping Jalen Smith. The big man shows up in the box score. He also makes sure to deliver Maryland wins. 

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