Friday night at then No. 20 Illinois, Maryland basketball found itself trailing by 14 in the first half, with all of the momentum seemingly on the home side. While Maryland had come back from double-digit deficits before, Friday’s game presented an added challenge with the raucous atmosphere in Champaign, and both teams competing for first place in the Big Ten.
Despite the added pressure, Maryland remained poised and confident, cutting the deficit to just 42-40 by halftime. Building on their late first-half momentum, the Terps outscored the Illini 35-24 in the second half, while holding them to 26% shooting. The 75-66-win marked Maryland’s first over a top 20 opponent on the road since January 2008. The win also gave Maryland sole possession of first place in the conference, and an opportunity to control their own destiny entering March.
Mounting a comeback against the Illini offered another glimpse at Maryland’s resilience and toughness — an emerging theme this season. While battling back in the second half, senior Anthony Cowan Jr. uncharacteristically found himself in foul trouble. However, as they did all night long, the Terps continued to push the advantage and didn’t allow Cowan’s absence to phase them. The comeback came as no surprise to the Terps, reaffirming their belief in the team’s grit and resilience.
“I think we kind of restated that we’re a resilient team, we’re a tough team,” guard Aaron Wiggins said. “Regardless of how the game is going, we can bounce back from anything. I think we more so reminded ourselves of our passion and our toughness and how good we can really be.”
While a road victory in the Big Ten is always important, the regular season is far from over. With eight games remaining before the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, a lot could change. Six of the Terps’ remaining eight games are against teams with winning records, including tough road matchups against Rutgers and Michigan State. Four of those eight games are on the road, where winning has been hard to come by in the Big Ten. Therefore, Maryland is aware the road ahead will be challenging.
“Our team hasn’t accomplished anything yet,” Wiggins said. “There’s still a lot more basketball ahead of us and we got to continue to stay focused.”
The refusal to get complacent all starts with Maryland’s veteran leader Cowan, who is looking to accomplish the ultimate goal of a championship in his final season. Cowan’s attitude is an indicator of his continued growth as a leader throughout this season for Maryland, providing wisdom both on and off the court. Now in his fourth season as a Terp, Cowan regularly imparts wisdom on his teammates.
“[Anthony’s] been one guy to consistently say to us, ‘don’t mind the outside business, stay focused on us because we haven’t accomplished what we want to,’” Wiggins said.
Echoing Cowan’s wisdom, several of the younger Terps are realizing the importance of not being satisfied with their current success. Both Wiggins and center Jalen Smith have adopted that mentality, and it’s become an infectious attitude throughout the team.
“Every time we leave practice and we bring it into the huddle we tell each other that we didn’t accomplish anything yet, so there’s no need to get complacent and just get too high on ourselves or get too low,” Jalen Smith said.
Keeping their long-term aspirations in mind, Maryland begins their remaining eight-game regular season schedule tonight at 8:30 p.m. hosting Nebraska, where the Terps will look to continue extending their win streak to seven.
“We know that these next couple weeks are going to be the most crucial weeks for us, going into the Big Ten [Tournament] and the NCAA Tournament,” Jalen Smith said. “It’s just about locking down and being more focused than we normally are.”