Kevin Huerter extended his right hand, then pulled back gingerly to avoid shaking it too hard. The pinkie that got hacked sometime in the second half had remained numb through the end of Maryland’s 71-64 comeback win over Northwestern.
“It’s OK,” the sophomore guard said, flexing his shooting hand carefully.
The Terps weren’t numb from their first Big Ten road win since an overtime victory at Illinois on Dec. 3 — the team’s league road opener — but the feeling was certainly different from the one they had after their previous seven games away from College Park.
“Going into our last home game on Saturday [against No. 17 Michigan] and the Big Ten tournament after that, it’s two in a row for us, I think we’re playing better,” said Huerter, who led Maryland (19-11, 8-9) with 18 points. “It’s obviously good going into the end of our season.”
Monday night’s win gave the Terps back-to-back victories for the first time since they UMBC on Dec. 29 and Penn State on Jan. 2, a fact that coach Mark Turgeon said was partly because his team never played at home in consecutive league games.
Huerter said Turgeon got on his players during halftime, when Maryland’s 15-1 run to take a seven-point lead midway through the first half was negated by a 25-11 spurt by Northwestern that helped the Wildcats close the half with a seven-point lead of their own.
“He didn’t think we were playing hard. He thought they were playing with a lot more energy,” Huerter said. “He was right, to be honest. The second half we were a lot better, especially defensively.”
Said sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr.: ”In the second half we really picked it up on the defensive end. A lot of times when we had games like this on the road, teams go on big runs in the second half. I don’t think we allowed them to go on any runs.”
After falling behind by as many as 11 points early in the second half, the Terps went on a 16-2 run to take control, eventually building their lead to nine. Maryland closed it out by making six straight free throws in the final 94 seconds.
“I told them [at halftime], ‘Guys we’re going to come up short again — if we don’t start guarding, we have no chance,’ ” Turgeon said after the game. “They had 37 at half and I said, ‘If they score 37 in the second half we’re done, it won’t be close.’
“So we guarded better. The last 15 minutes, we were great. We rebounded. Guys played with energy. We guarded smart. They’re hard to guard — they got a lot of good players. And they shot well in the first half, too, to get the seven-point lead.”
Huerter, Cowan and redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley each scored 11 points in the second half. After the Wildcats hit eight of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, they were only 2-for-10 in the second half.
Cowan, who finished with 13 points, said Turgeon used an offense in the second half that the team had not run in a game this season, with the guards trying to beat Northwestern off the dribble and get to the basket.
“Honestly in the first half I didn’t think our offense was that good,” Cowan said. “Then Coach made some adjustments in the second half and it really switched how we played. … You can’t really run a real offense against them because you never know what they’re really in.”
As well as Maryland played in the second half, it was hard to overlook Northwestern’s injury problems, or the fact that during a four-game losing streak that began with a 16-point loss to the Terps on Feb. 10 at Xfinity Center, the Wildcats have surrendered double-digit leads in the past three.
Senior point guard Bryant McIntosh didn’t play for the second straight game because of a shoulder injury. Redshirt junior forward Vic Law, who had hit two 3-pointers in the first half, turned an ankle right after Maryland took the lead with 8:58 remaining and eventually left the game.
The victory all but sealed up eighth place in the Big Ten for a once-injury-depleted Maryland team that had finished no worse than a tie for third in its first three seasons in the league. Now the Terps are relatively healthy and brimming with confidence.
“I think it’s real good for us going into the Big Ten tournament, sneak a couple of wins in, maybe even win the whole thing honestly the way we’re playing,” said Wiley, who also scored 13 points, to go along with three rebounds and two steals.
It was hard to tell that the Terps had actually ended their long road losing streak as they emerged from the visitor’s locker room at Allstate Arena. They seemed to take a businesslike approach, knowing it isn’t time to celebrate.
There wasn’t so much as a water bottle shower for Turgeon from his players.
“We got a big one on Saturday coming up. Not too much,” Huerter said.
As he walked to the bus that would take the team to the airport, Huerter was asked whether the 53-year-old Turgeon had done any crazy dances to celebrate the team’s first road win in 78 days and its first back-to-back wins in 48.
“I don’t think you want to see him dance,” Huerter said with a smile.