Big Ten Leading Maryland Hosts Nebraska Next
No. 9 Maryland (19-4, 9-3 Big Ten) entered Champaign, Illinois, Feb. 7 with sole possession of first place in the Big Ten on the line, squaring off with the team it was tied with atop the standings, No. 20 Illinois (16-7, 8-4). The Terps took care of business in impressive fashion by defeating the Fighting Illini 75-66 in front of a hostile road crowd at State Farm Center.
Illinois started hot with a 13-0 run that led into the under-16 media timeout in the first half. Leading by as many as 14 early in the game, it appeared the Terps could be in trouble. But Maryland fought back to pull within two and trailed just 42-40 at halftime thanks to a three-pointer by sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins at the first half buzzer.
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It was one of two three-pointers in the last 37 seconds of the first half by Wiggins, who finished with 10 points. He was one of five Terps to finish scoring in double figures, which is the first time Maryland has achieved that feat since its loss to LSU last year in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. led all scorers with 20 points on Friday night while adding seven assists and four rebounds to hit totals. Cowan had the hot hand early, netting 11 of Maryland’s first 15 points.
But it was junior Darryl Morsell and sophomores Jalen “Stix” Smith and Eric Ayala who helped the Terps separate themselves in the second half. Maryland opened up the second half with an 11-2 run and would not relinquish the lead from that point forward.
Morsell put on a true “glue guy” performance and stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, five rebounds, four steals, three assists, and a block. Ayala scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half. Smith, who scored the Terps’ first two points but was held scoreless for the rest of the first half, recorded his sixth straight double-double and 14th of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
With the game starting to get out of hand for Maryland in the first half, freshman forward Donta Scott — an unlikely source of scoring — hit three straight field goals that yielded seven points to help get the Terps back in the game. They were Scott’s only buckets of the contest.
But besides the heroics of Scott and Maryland’s five double-digit scorers, the real difference that turned the game around for the Terps was head coach Mark Turgeon’s willingness to switch defenses. Turgeon called for a 3-2 zone midway through the first half and even let his team put on a full-court press at times. The defensive shakeup sparked a 15-4 first half run by Maryland that changed the course of the game.
Maryland’s defense was locked in to end the first half and for most of the second half. Illinois missed 10 straight field goals to start the second half and were 1-for-15 on field goal attempts coming out of halftime. An 8-0 Illini run midway through the second half brought the home team within one, but Maryland answered with a 10-3 run of its home to secure the win.
The Terps held the Illini to just 36 percent shooting as a team, and Illinois didn’t help its own cause by shooting just 14-for-24 from the free throw line. Maryland’s 13-for-15 mark from the charity stripe and plus-eight scoring margin in the paint were keys to the Terps’ win.
Holding Illinois leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu to 16 points on 17 shots was also integral to Maryland’s big win. Senior guard Andres Feliz was the only other Illini player to score in double figures with 12 off the bench.
Also of note in Maryland’s 11-point victory were the emotions that were running high for both teams from the opening tip. There were four technical foul called in the first half — two on the Maryland bench and one each on Feliz and Morsell. Illinois head coach Brad Underwood was called for the game’s fifth technical foul midway through the second half for arguing with the referees.
Now alone atop the Big Ten standings, Maryland returns to College Park Feb. 11 for a home matchup against Nebraska (7-16, 2-10) — a team that currently sits at 13th out of 14 teams in the conference.
It will be the first and only time the Terps and Cornhuskers meet this season, as Fred Hoiberg’s team will look to end its eight game losing streak. Maryland is 13-0 at home this season and Nebraska has yet to win a true road game during its 2019-20 campaign.
But looking to extend their six-game winning streak and remain in first place in the Big Ten, the Terps won’t be taking the Cornhuskers lightly.
Nebraska doesn’t do anything particularly well, although, ranking seventh nationally in offensive turnover percentage despite playing at the 31st fastest pace in Division I hoops is quite impressive.
No player on the Cornhuskers’ roster is taller than 6-foot-9, but Nebraska tries to make up for its lack of size by playing with speed. Guards Cam Mack, Haanif Cheatham, and Dachon Burke are the names to watch out for, averaging 13.0, 11.9, and 11.4 points per game, respectively.
The Terps have decent size, but getting out and running is not an issue for Maryland. Turgeon’s teams typically like to slow things up on offense and play a more deliberate style of basketball, but when the Terps have had to run with teams this year, they’ve looked good.
Maryland’s No. 5-ranked defense in adjusted defensive efficiency can get stops and start the break strong. The Terps’ rangy guards on defense such as Cowan, Morsell, and Wiggins should be the perfect formula for stopping Nebraska’s backcourt.
If the Cornhuskers don’t receive stellar performances from their guards, it will likely be a long night for Nebraska. Also, if Maryland keeps rolling as it has been of late, it will be difficult for one of the Big Ten’s worst teams to keep pace with the league’s current top dog.
Pat has been covering sports in the DMV area since 2012. He is a former Washington Redskins beat reporter for PressBoxDC.com and has been covering University of Maryland football and basketball recruiting and daily beats for Rivals.com's Terrapin Sports Report since 2013. Pat graduated from College Park with his master's degree in journalism and has received bylines in publications such as USA TODAY Sports, The Philadelphia Inquirer, SB Nation, and Yahoo! Sports. A Philadelphia native, Pat enjoys fishing, golfing, and playing fantasy sports when he's not covering or watching a game.