Minneapolis — In his first season at Wichita State, men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon went away from the man-to-man defensive principles he learned up the road at Kansas under Larry Brown by having his rebuilding team play zone for an entire game. The Shockers lost.
That might have been the most one of Turgeon’s teams played zone — until Tuesday night.
Faced with a seven-point deficit early in the second half and the fact that his young team couldn’t stop Minnesota — with or without sophomore center Bruno Fernando, who was on the bench after picking up his third personal foul — Maryland went zone.
This time, Turgeon’s team won.
Buoyed by a 3-2 zone that seemed to surprise the Gophers as much as those who’ve watched the Terps play almost entirely man-to-man for Turgeon’s eight years in College Park, Maryland pulled away from the Gophers for an 82-67 victory.
It was the fourth straight win for the Terps and their second straight on the road, following a 14-point win Saturday at Rutgers. Junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. led Maryland (13-3, 4-1 Big Ten) by tying his career high with 27 points and freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) finished with a career-high 21 points and added eight rebounds.
Junior guard Amir Coffey led Minnesota (12-3, 2-2), which lost at home for the first time this season, with 16 points.
“We couldn’t guard ’em, we absolutely could not guard ’em,” Turgeon said in explaining his move to the 3-2 zone. “I feel like they scored every possession from the five-minute mark of the first half to the first six minutes of the second half, so we went zone. And it worked.”
Maryland scored nine straight points after going to the zone in what turned out to be a 21-7 run to go from a 54-47 deficit to a 69-61 lead. After a free throw by senior forward Jordan Murphy and Coffey’s 3-pointer cut the deficit back to four, Cowan answered with a 3-pointer and the Gophers never threatened again.
Asked about staying in the zone for nearly the remainder of the game, Turgeon said: “It was working. I said in the [postgame] TV interview, we lost a game earlier [to Seton Hall] and I think it just came down to one team making shots and the other team not making them. I think that’s kind of what happened today. They missed shots, and we made shots.”
Said Cowan: “Coach made a great call to go zone. It definitely helped us. It definitely got us some key stops that we needed.”
Along with the zone, and Maryland’s half-court offensive execution in which the Terps hit 16 of 23 from the field in the second half, the difference Tuesday was at the free-throw line. Maryland, which had its struggles in its last loss at home to Seton Hall on Dec. 22, made 24 of 27 from the line while Minnesota shot a woeful 9-for-23.
Cowan, who scored just four points in the first half, took control of the game in the second half. He finished with six rebounds and five assists and made all 10 of his free-throw attempts.
“My teammates kept me confident, told me that they needed me to score,” said Cowan, who also scored 27 in an overtime road win at Illinois last season, one of only two Big Ten games the Terps won away from College Park. “Coaches had the confidence in me. I was happy I was able to turn it on a little bit for ’em.”
Said Turgeon: “He was bad in the first half, wasn’t he? For him. We fed off of him [in the second half]. We just kept saying, ‘Go to Anthony.’ Our offense got better. We screened better. We moved better. We rolled harder. We just did everything better. Our passing was crisp and that really got him going. And when you’ve got a lot of good players around you, like we do, it opens up the floor for Anthony.”
Freshman forward Ricky Lindo Jr., who came into the game when Fernando picked up his third personal foul, played a major role in Maryland’s comeback. During the stretch when the Terps took control of the game, Lindo had two blocks, a few of his six rebounds and four of his six points, including a 3-pointer.
Asked how confident he was when he took the 3-pointer, Lindo said: “I felt very confident. I’ve been working with coach [Matt] Brady a lot on 3s. The day before we left for Minnesota, I was in the gym working on it. No worries on that 3-point win.”
Said Cowan: “Ricky has been stepping up and playing great for us. I’ve been telling Coach that for a while. It’s definitely been a great help. We’ve got to keep encouraging to keep going hard like that.”