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Behind Cowan’s late heroics, No. 3 Maryland storms back to beat Illinois, 59-58, in Big Ten opener

Anthony Cowan Jr. has long played his career in the shadow of former Maryland star Melo Trimble, especially when it came to late-game heroics. As a sophomore, Cowan led the Terps to a late comeback victory in overtime at Illinois, scoring a then-career-high 28 points.

Cowan did it again Saturday, and again it came at the expense of the Fighting Illini.

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With the No. 3 Terps trailing for all but 27 seconds of their Big Ten opener and by as many as 15 points early in the second half at Xfinity Center, Cowan pulled Maryland back from the brink of its first defeat this season and gave his team one of its most thrilling wins — and luckiest, according to coach Mark Turgeon — in recent history.

Cowan hit a tying 3-pointer from more than 30 feet away with 19 seconds left, lifting off from the Gary Williams signature on the court named for the Hall of Fame coach. He then helped force a turnover and was fouled, hitting the go-ahead free throw and purposely missing the second attempt as the Terps and their fans celebrated an unlikely 59-58 win.

“The basketball gods were obviously on our side. It’s kind of a miracle win,” said Turgeon, whose team finished the game on an 11-2 run after trailing 56-48 with 4:33 remaining. “We were lucky. We’re really lucky to be 1-0 in the league.”

Turgeon was relieved after Cowan’s 3 and confident that his team could get one more defensive stop to force overtime. But junior guard Andres Feliz, who had given Maryland fits in his team’s second-half comeback win last season at Madison Square Garden and had scored 11 points off the bench Saturday, lost the ball and then dove into the pile, fouling Cowan.

Cowan made the first free throw and, after Illinois called timeout, banged the second off the front of the rim to prevent the Illini to get more than a full-court heave at the buzzer. The 6-foot senior point guard finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists to lead Maryland (10-0, 1-0), while sophomore forward Jalen Smith added 13 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. Senior guard Trent Frazier led Illinois (6-3, 0-1) with 13 points.

“In the end, it’s a great win, and we’ve got to enjoy it,” Turgeon said. “But we’ve got to get our energy level back. We didn’t have it today. Our defense carried us. I thought Stix’s defense around the rim was terrific and our rebounding was good enough in a small lineup for us to win today. But we just weren’t very good offensively the whole game.”

The victory helped the Terps, whose next game is Tuesday at Penn State, match the 10-0 start by the 1998-99 team led by Steve Francis.

After what Turgeon called “the worst shootaround of the year” a few hours before tipoff, Maryland made just 21 of 63 shots overall, including eight of 31 3-pointers, with the game-tying 3 coming on a broken play.

Turgeon said that his team ran a play that he called during the timeout incorrectly.

“The back side we ran wrong. The first part, they just switched it, which was a ball screen pop [for an open 3-pointer]. We almost turned it over, so you’re out of the play because your timing’s off,” Turgeon said. “Anthony just goes and gets it and shoots it. That’s what happened, just to be quite real with you.”

Said Cowan: “I was one that messed the play up. Luckily, I was able to get it back and get a good look at the basket.”

When he finally got the ball back from Smith, Cowan realized that Frazier was slow to come out on him. Cowan’s shot hit the bottom of the net as most in the announced crowd of 16,690 was in full throat.

"Seen the guy kind of back off a little bit, I thought that gave me enough room to pull it,” said Cowan, who had hit just one of his previous six 3-point attempts in the game. “Obviously I made it. Knocked it down. I saw the guard drive, lost it a little bit, I dove for it. Luckily I hit the free throw to change the lead. ”

Said Turgeon: "We all knew what he was going to do. And when he shot it, I knew it looked perfect. I knew it was in. That’s kind of what he does. And then he stepped up and made the free throw.”

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The loss was crushing for the Illini, which was coming off an 81-79 loss at home to Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge after cutting a 19-point deficit to one before star guard Ayo Dosunmu was called for an offensive foul with 2.7 seconds left.

“That was one hard, I’m not going to lie," second-year Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of Saturday’s game. “I’m really, really proud of our locker room. Mark’s got a terrific basketball team that’s playing as well as anybody in the country, to be quite honest. And it came down to a little bit of luck on a broken play that a very good player who’s playing at an extremely high level. That’s what four-year seniors do. Tough. Tough.”

It was the first time Underwood had been back at Xfinity Center since coaching Oklahoma State two years ago. On that night, the Cowboys led by as many as 12 in the second half before the Terps, led by Trimble, came back to win, 71-70. Maryland won when Trimble made a pair of free throws with nine seconds remaining.

“Trimble’s was the flop of all-time, though. He didn’t have the ball when they called the foul. At least this kid had to make a basket,” Underwood said. “I’ll go every day with that one, every day over Trimble’s ‘throw the ball up and get the foul’ call. That one was different because both teams offensively played at a really high level. ... Give Mark and his crew a lot of credit. They never gave up. They showed why they were No. 3 in the country.”

Turgeon seemed more upset after a victory Saturday than any other time during his nine seasons at Maryland.

“We were really selfish again — overdribbling, taking some bad shots, trying to play hero ball, trying to be the guy that gets us going,” Turgeon said. “We got a ways to go. We got a long ways to go offensively. But it’s nice when you can win miracle wins and learn from it, and hopefully we’ll learn from it and be better on Tuesday.”

No. 3 Maryland@Penn State

Tuesday, 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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