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3 takeaways from No. 15 Maryland’s 82-72 win over No. 18 Iowa

COLLEGE PARK — Jalen Smith continued his ascension as one of the best big men in the Big Ten with his 12th double-double of the season. Here are three takeaways from No. 15 Maryland’s 10-point win over No. 18 Iowa Thursday at Xfinity Center.

Jalen Smith’s dominance at both ends of the court was a big part of why the Terps won.

Much of the attention after Maryland’s fourth straight win was focused on senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr., and for good reason. Cowan’s career-high 31 points, to go along with six assists and six rebounds, was perhaps the best performance of his career.

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Still, the work “Stix” put in played a significant role. Just as Cowan almost single-handedly got Indiana in second-half foul trouble in Sunday’s 77-76 win in Bloomington, Smith was the reason why Iowa center Luka Garza got into foul trouble himself and was a non-factor for much of the second half.

“What a great player he is,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said of Garza. “He’s almost impossible to guard, especially with all the shooters and how fast they’re moving. It makes it hard to double. Stix really played smart defensively tonight. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how good he is defensively.”

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Smith finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high tying five blocked shots — three of them on shots by the 6-11, 260-pound junior. Smith also drew six fouls — one fewer than Cowan did against the Hawkeyes — and made all eight of his free throws.

Iowa appeared to have dodged a bullet in the first half after Garza picked up two fouls before two minutes of the game had elapsed. The Hawkeyes, who led by six points early on, trailed by only four at halftime.

Smith’s willingness to bang with Garza led to a crucial double-foul being called on both players with 15:32 left and the Terps ahead 44-39. With Garza out, Maryland attacked the basket. Junior guard Darryl Morsell hit a pull-up jumper in the paint and sophomore Aaron Wiggins scored on a slicing drive off a no-look feed by Morsell.

While Iowa eventually cut its deficit twice to three after Garza returned, Smith blocked one of his shots close-in and then forced him into an awkward miss. Eventually, Smith drew an offensive foul on Garza with 7:55 left with the Terps up eight. Garza came out and the lead grew to 13.

Smith’s recent string of dominating performances started after Maryland’s last loss, a 56-54 defeat at Wisconsin on Jan. 14. Though Smith had 18 points and nine rebounds in the game, he didn’t have a single blocked shot for only the second time all season.

“I was like, ‘You’re missing a lot of block opportunities just being lazy and not coming back [on defense] and coming from behind and blocking shots and things,'" Turgeon recalled Thursday. “I said, ‘Bruno [Fernando] used to do that for us. Bruno’s not coming back.’”

Early in the season, it seemed as if the Terps missed Fernando, now a rookie with the Atlanta Hawks, badly. But over the course of the past month, it appears that Smith is benefiting from Fernando’s absence offensively and is starting to become a force defensively.

Cutting down on turnovers has been a key in Maryland’s recent turnaround.

Though the overall number of turnovers crept into double figures with a couple of sloppy possessions after the game’s outcome had been decided, the stretch of the Terps taking care of the ball continued against the Hawkeyes.

In the last three games, Maryland has averaged just seven turnovers and has gone long periods without making any, something that the Terps have never done during Turgeon’s nine-year tenure. In college basketball, there is often a direct correlation between not turning the ball over and winning games.

“One of our main emphases in practice every day is to limit turnovers and going into games that’s the same thing, just continue to make passes and making sure we’re making the right pass at the right time,” said Smith, who had just one against Iowa and has no more than two in any game since Bryant on Dec. 29.

A lot of it has to do with Turgeon changing his offense after Christmas, with sophomore Eric Ayala taking more and more of the ball-handling responsibilities off Cowan’s shoulders. In the last three games, the two have combined for 29 assists and only five turnovers, with four of the turnovers against Iowa.

“We’ve been working on it for two years, I know you think I’m crazy, but we have,” Turgeon said. “It’s nice to see.”

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Aaron Wiggins looks like a completely different player, even on a night when he was missing shots.

In Maryland’s 67-49 loss at Iowa on Jan. 10, Wiggins went scoreless for the only time in his college career, missing all four shots he tried and turning the ball over three times in a season-low 16 minutes. In his next game, at Wisconsin, Wiggins came off the bench for the first time this season.

Beginning with the Badgers, Wiggins has averaged 12.8 points and five rebounds in the last five games. Though Wiggins had a tough night shooting against Iowa — making just five of a career-high 18 shots, including two of nine on 3-pointers — the fact that he took so many was seen by Turgeon as a good sign.

“I thought he had guts enough to take them,” Turgeon said. “I thought he only had two bad shots — a transition [3] in the first half I wasn’t in love with and one off the dribble with six seconds to go [on the shot clock]. He could have made a play for somebody else.”

Turgeon gives Wiggins that freedom based on the fact that he was the team’s leading 3-point shooter last season as well as how he is doing other things to help his team win this season. Along with the 14 points he scored against the Hawkeyes, he had five rebounds and helped cool off Joe Wieskamp after a hot start.

“He rebounded, he defended,” Turgeon said.

Turgeon said he can see a difference in Wiggins’ demeanor.

“The look of confidence on his face, that’s a big barometer for me,” Turgeon said. “He played like that, even though he didn’t make shots tonight.”

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