Unselfish offense, Jalen Smith guide Maryland Basketball to 9th consecutive win

Clinging to a six-point lead with 4:18 remaining, guard Anthony Cowan missed a three pointer off the back iron. As he did all night long, center Jalen Smith battled for position, gathering an offensive rebound — one of his six on the night. Off the second-chance opportunity, “Stix” threw down a thunderous alley-oop jam from Cowan to extend Maryland’s (22-4, 12-3 B1G) lead to eight. That sequence encompassed his dominant 22 point and career-high 19 rebound performance, in the Terps 76-67 victory over Northwestern.

“That’s what [Jalen Smith] does, he’s doing a lot for us,” Cowan said. “Got a lot of second-chance opportunities because of him and we needed all of them.”

In their last meeting January 21st in Evanston, Maryland struggled in the first half, shooting 26 percent from the field. That night, the Terps often settled for perimeter opportunities and were unable to generate any success offensively. However, Tuesday night at the Xfinity Center was a complete flip of the script. While “Stix” was outstanding down low, junior Darryl Morsell and Cowan were just as impressive in the backcourt, combining for 32 points. Morsell contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Cowan finished with 19 points and six assists, passing Tom McMillen for eighth-all time on Maryland’s scoring list.

Entering tonight’s contest, Maryland was averaging 13.2 assists per game. It nearly surpassed that total in the first half, with 12 assists on 13 made field goals. Cowan and Morsell spearheaded the ball movement, combining for nine assists in the first half.

“We shared the ball yesterday in practice and I was like, ‘woah this is really fun to watch,’ head coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s contagious when guys share the ball, and our point guards had zero turnovers tonight.”

The Terps jumped all over the Wildcats early, in large part due to Jalen Smith. The standout sophomore posted ten points and five rebounds in the opening eight minutes, including consecutive electrifying dunks that energized the Xfinity Center. However, when it seemed Maryland was poised to run away with the game, Northwestern answered with a run of its own. Over the ensuing eight minutes, the Wildcats outscored the Terps 16-8, cutting the deficit to 25-22 with 4:05 remaining in the first half.

Struggling from beyond the arc earlier in the first half, the Terps ended the first half on a 12-3 run, with the three-pointer serving as the catalyst. Morsell and the sophomore tandem of Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins each buried threes. After a strong final four minutes, the Terps led 37-25 at the break.

Quickly cutting into the deficit, Northwestern started the second half by knocking down five of its first seven shots. Ryan Young showcased an impressive set of post moves with eight points in the opening five minutes of the second half. Young’s strong post play helped the Wildcats trim the lead to 43-38 with 15:42 remaining. Over the next several minutes, Northwestern continued to hang around, trimming Maryland’s lead to four with 12:22 remaining on a layup from guard Pat Spencer.

However, with 10:23 remaining freshman, Donta Scott buried one of the most important shots of the second half. Scott, enjoying recent success, stepped up and buried Maryland’s only three of the second half on the right wing off the feed from Wiggins. His three extended the Terps lead to 53-46 and hyped up the crowd.

As it did all night long, Northwestern refused to relent. Buie and Miller Kopp, who scored 13 points in the second half, made clutch shots keeping Northwestern in it. After a tough floater from Buie cut the score to 63-57, Maryland remained poised and didn’t flinch, responding with a 6-0 run. Jalen Smith’s ferocious alley-oop highlighted the run, which allowed Maryland to regain its first double-digit lead since early in the second half.

Northwestern gave Maryland everything it had, but the Terps executed when it mattered most, extending their home record to 15-0 on the season.

“The game was on the line there and I thought our execution at the end was really good and it’s good to see,” Turgeon said.

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