Late first half surge lifts No. 1 Michigan State over Maryland

Maryland basketball

By Max Marcilla

Through the first 15 minutes of action, the Maryland Terrapins looked like they had a legitimate chance to topple a No. 1 team on the road — a feat that had only been accomplished three times by an unranked team since 2010-11.

As the top-ranked Michigan State Spartans turned to their bench, the team’s depth and shooting sparked a 15-3 run to end the first half, thwarting any chances for a Terrapin victory.

In their 91-61 win, the Spartans proved why they are not only the class of the Big Ten, but of the entire college basketball nation.

The Terps’ hot start was matched by Michigan State and the scoreboard reflected the fast-paced, three-point shooting barrage of the first 15 minutes. The score was even at 29 apiece and Kevin Huerter was red hot — he scored 14 points and made three three-point shots in the first frame. The Spartans’ stars — including Jaren Jackson Jr., a top 10 player in the class of 2017 — were able to stay on track until the reserves started to pull away.

With Maryland’s starting power forward, Bruno Fernando, and center, Michal Cekovsky, on the bench due to foul trouble, the Spartans bench took over. Matt McQuiad hit a pair of three-pointers and Xavier Tillman made back-to-back layups, guiding a 15-3 run to conclude the half.

The Terps’ best chance to regain momentum — a wide open three-point shot by Huerter at the buzzer — sailed wide right, failing to even graze the rim.

Huerter’s worst shot of an otherwise flawless first half was a sign of more to come for the struggling Terps, as they let the Spartan lead balloon to as many as 32.

In addition to heroics by Jackson Jr., Miles Bridges and Nick Ward — a trio that combined for 46 points — the Spartans paint presence was too much for Maryland’s injury-depleted front court to handle. Cekovsky fouled out with over eight minutes remaining in the second half while Fernando was held to just 2-of-8 shooting. Sean Obi, one of their replacements, was minus-22 in 16 minutes of game action. It was his season-high in minutes.

Anthony Cowan Jr. set a career-high with 26 points in the loss.

Michigan State has six Big Ten games on its schedule before a trip to College Park on Jan. 28. It very well could still be the No. 1 team in the country, giving Maryland a second chance to defeat a top-ranked team for the first time since 2008.

The Terps, meanwhile, have an excellent chance of their own to get back on track. The reeling Iowa Hawkeyes (0-4 in Big Ten play) will visit the Xfinity Center on Sunday, looking to rebound after an 11-point home loss to Ohio State.

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