Maryland’s fortunes in the Big Ten this season have often been connected to point guard Anthony Cowan Jr.’s offensive game.
If Cowan shoots well, or at least decently, the Terps usually win.
If Cowan shoots poorly from the field but gets to the free-throw line, they still have a chance.
But if Cowan doesn’t see his shot fall and doesn’t get a lot of trips to the line, Maryland has struggled to close out games.
Such was the case with Friday's 69-61 loss at then-No. 24 Wisconsin, the third in four games for the then-No. 21 Terps.
That’s why Maryland, now ranked No. 24, is hoping to get its leading scorer back on track Wednesday at Nebraska.
Asked Tuesday if he thought Cowan tried to force some shots early in the second half against the Badgers, thus reverting back to a problem he had at times as a sophomore and earlier this season, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon took another tact.
“Early in the second half, we were all messed up,” Turgeon said after practice Tuesday. “The fouls got to us. We were all not playing the way we’re capable of playing. We were trying to get Anthony going. We needed to get him going.
“Was he trying to do too much? Yes and no, but if he makes a couple of those, it might be a different outcome. We’ll learn, we’ll get better. It’s a tough building. I thought Wisconsin was as good as they could be the last seven minutes.”
On a night when freshman guard Eric Ayala hit seven of 11 shots from the field, including four of five 3-pointers, to finish with 18 points (two shy of tying a career high), Cowan scored just 11 on 4-for-16 shooting overall, missing seven of nine 3-point tries and making just one of two foul shots.
Cowan, who led the Big Ten in free throws made (162) and was second in free throws attempted (191) last season, currently ranks sixth in made free throws (101) and 10th in attempts (119).
Asked immediately after the game if the thought any of his teammates were trying too hard to make plays against the Badgers, Ayala said, “At the end of the day, we’re all talented. We’ve all got goals and aspirations.
“Guys are trying to make plays. I don’t think it’s a selfish thing that one person is trying to make a play for the better of the team. I think it’s all coming from the right place. I don’t think there’s one person in our locker room who is all about them[selves].”
Since Melo Trimble left after his junior season two years ago, the 6-foot, 170-pound Cowan has been given a lot of responsibility to take over games in the second half, especially on possessions when the shot clock is about to expire.
Like Trimble, Cowan has had his share of success, evidenced by the big 3-pointer he hit against the Badgers on Jan. 14 to help regain the lead after the Terps had led by as many as 21 points. It helped Maryland survive, 64-40, at Xfinity Center.
Cowan has had some big second-half outbursts this season, including a stretch of four games during Maryland’s seven-game winning streak when he averaged 4.8 points in the first half before scoring a combined 73 points on just 28 second-half shots.
How Cowan felt about his performance Friday — which followed an eight-point outing in a 70-52 win at home over Northwestern when he barely played in the second half because of foul trouble — is unknown. Cowan was not made available to the media after the Wisconsin game or after practice Tuesday.
But along with Turgeon, Cowan’s teammates look at it as merely a blip in an otherwise outstanding season for a player who was named third-team All-Big Ten as a sophomore and could be in consideration for similar recognition again.
“He’s a leader for us, we have a lot of trust in him, we see him hitting those shots in practice. So we have a lot of confidence in him,” sophomore center Bruno Fernando said Tuesday. “We see him knocking down those [shots] at the end of games even here at home and other places away.
“It's just an off-night for him. He’s going to get it back and bounce back from that night. We trust him a lot and we know he’s going to do a lot of great things for our team. Everybody as a player has those nights where things are just not falling for you. He’s going to [keep] doing what he’s doing because he helps us win at the end of the day “
Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) said Cowan helped the Terps win three straight road games in one stretch last month, largely because “our point guard having confidence in himself, that’s good, because his confidence can rub off on other individuals."
Morsell points to the second half of Maryland’s 82-67 win at Minnesota on Jan. 8 as a reason why the Terps won’t lose confidence in Cowan. After he and the team struggled in the first half, falling behind by six at halftime and eight early in the second half, Cowan scored 23 of his career-high-tying 27 points after halftime. He shot 10-for-10 from the free-throw line in the win.
“I know Anthony since I was little. Even when he misses shots and is not playing well, we’ve all got confidence in him,” Morsell said. “Just playing within the offense, him taking good shots and just trusting us when he’s not hitting shots and stuff like that is something he’s been focusing on.”
Notes: Turgeon turned 54 on Tuesday and was presented with an energy drink wrapped in a black bow by freshman forward Ricky Lindo Jr. after practice. Turgeon planned to celebrate his birthday Tuesday night after the team got to Lincoln, Neb., where his father Bob lives. Several of Turgeon’s family members still live in the Midwest and typically are in attendance when Maryland plays at Nebraska.