By The Washington Post · Emily Giambalvo · SPORTS, BASKETBALL
Even though No. 7 Maryland could never quite run away from the Wildcats, the Terps played well when they needed to respond to Northwestern's second-half push and secured their ninth consecutive win. Instead of letting the game unravel into a disappointment, Maryland's stars turned the 76-67 victory at Xfinity Center into a night of milestones that will help push that once-close margin farther out of mind.
Sophomore forward Jalen Smith led the Terps with 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds, finishing with his ninth consecutive double-double and within one rebound of becoming the first Maryland player to notch 20 boards in a game since Joe Smith in 1995. Anthony Cowan Jr., the Terps' senior point guard who led his team to the win over the Spartans, scored 19 points and added five assists, passing Tom McMillen for eighth place on the program's career scoring list in the process.
Maryland (22-4, 12-3 Big Ten) led 37-25 at halftime, but Northwestern (6-19, 1-14) charged closer after the break and pulled to within 48-44 with 12:22 to go. The Terps didn't panic, and they maintained a six-point lead when Cowan found Smith for an emphatic alley-oop dunk with 4:13 left. The play started a run of six straight points that extinguished the Wildcats' chances for an upset.
Smith, who recorded his double-double by halftime, and Cowan each scored 10 points in the second half to help secure the win. But the two Maryland stars had help from their teammates, with junior guard Darryl Morsell (13 points) and freshman forward Donta Scott (12 points) each reaching double figures. Morsell notched a career-high seven assists and added seven rebounds on his 21st birthday.
Scott has played well in Maryland's past four games after working through what Coach Mark Turgeon said might have been his freshman wall. He ran into foul trouble early and only played 20 minutes, but he still had a significant presence on both ends of the floor against the Wildcats.
Northwestern has just one league win this season and entered Tuesday on a nine-game losing streak, but Maryland was prepared after narrowly avoiding a letdown in similar circumstances a week earlier against Nebraska, the team just ahead of Northwestern in the conference standings. The Terps entered that game coming off a road win at Illinois and played poorly, barely escaping with a two-point win. Tuesday's game, following the emotional win at Michigan State, started to feel familiar when the Wildcats made their push in the second half, but the result this time was no longer in doubt well before the final possession.
Maryland's top six players - starters Cowan, Smith, Morsell, Scott and sophomore guard Eric Ayala, along with sixth man Aaron Wiggins - played 188 minutes Tuesday and have now accounted for at least 185 of the 200 available minutes in each of the past six games. Turgeon said he doesn't mind the distribution of minutes being weighted heavily toward those players as long as they finish the game with around 30 minutes each. But Smith (38 minutes), Cowan (37) and Morsell (35) all exceeded that mark, and Turgeon's team, once believed to be his deepest in his nine seasons at Maryland, still needs more help from its bench.
Three of Maryland's reserves - sophomore forward Ricky Lindo Jr., sophomore guard Serrel Smith Jr. and freshman center Chol Marial - played early and finished with 13 minutes among the three of them. But when Northwestern started to threaten, Turgeon had to turn back toward his trusted players to see the game to its end.
When Maryland played at Northwestern last month, the Terps fell into a 14-point hole by halftime. But fueled by Jalen Smith's dominant second half, they managed to surge back and earn their first true road win of the season. Since then, Maryland has won three more road games, each in difficult environments - at Indiana, Illinois and Michigan State.
After the poor first half against the Wildcats in January, Turgeon told his players, "We're going to change our season at halftime, guys." The Terps haven't lost since - building a two-game lead atop the Big Ten standings in the process - and their winning ways continued in the rematch.