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Three takeaways from No. 17 Maryland’s 77-66 win at Northwestern

Jalen Smith’s career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds were a continuation of the sophomore forward’s emergence as the Maryland men’s basketball team’s most reliable offensive weapon. Here are three takeaways from the No. 17 Terps’ come-from-behind victory, 77-66, at Northwestern on Tuesday night.

‘Stix’ is living up to the hype that followed him from Baltimore.

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When he emerged as one of the top players in the country on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit the summer before his senior year at Mount Saint Joseph, Jalen Smith was still overshadowed by others. The same held true when he announced his decision to attend Maryland, and also when he arrived in College Park.

There were times last season when some wondered whether Smith would become the kind of player Terps coach Mark Turgeon hoped he would be, and it wasn’t until a strong performance in the NCAA tournament did those who doubted Smith begin to get silenced.

For most of his sophomore season, particularly the past six games, Smith is proving to be one of the best big men in the Big Ten and one of the best stretch-4’s — power forwards with a perimeter game — in the country.

Starting with a 19-point, eight-rebound performance in a 16-point win over Indiana on Jan. 4, Smith is averaging 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 58.7% from the field (37-for-63) and making 61.1% (11-for-18) of his 3-point attempts.

What he did in the second half Tuesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena was reminiscent of what senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. did in last year’s comeback win at Minnesota, when the Terps went from being down eight early in the second half and wound up blowing out the Gophers by 15 points as Cowan scored a then-career-high 27 points.

Asked if Smith is a different player than he was as a freshman, fellow sophomore Aaron Wiggins said: “I think the last couple of games he’s been a different player than he was at the beginning of the season. Just his presence in the post, whether it’s defensively or offensively.

“Defensively he’s guarding the ball by himself, we’re not doubling as much. He’s blocking shots. He’s grabbing every rebound. He’s telling us, ‘I’m going to box out, you guys grab every rebound.’ He’ll box out. You go to grab a rebound, he’ll snatch it from us. He’s like, ‘I got it.’”

Northwestern coach Chris Collins, who played with some pretty good big men during his college career at Duke, sees a difference in Smith from the player he was as a freshman, when he put up decent numbers (11.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game) while playing in the shadow of Cowan and Bruno Fernando.

Collins said it’s more than just the confidence Smith seems to have in his game.

“Part of it too, I always felt last year was kind of difficult, him and Bruno playing together,” Collins said. “He’s now in a position where they spread the floor around him and he can roll to the basket, he can pick and pop and he can fly because they put four skill guys around him. Last year he showed stretches where he could be really good.

“The talent was there, you saw it. But sometimes when you have two big guys, there can be less space. Obviously Bruno was fantastic. [Smith’s] obviously stronger, he’s worked on his game, he’s shooting the ball. He’s got a great body. But confidence and experience mixed with his experience makes for a pretty darn good player.”

Maryland’s bench helps the team get its footing in the first half and make runs in the second half.

Turgeon has talked recently about re-establishing his team’s depth, something that he did early in the season during nonconference games that weren’t the grind-it-out offensive affairs that Big Ten contests have become for the Terps.

Along with having Wiggins come off the bench the past three games, with hopes of relaxing the 6-foot-6 wing and giving his team another scorer in the second unit, Turgeon has used sophomores Serrel Smith Jr. and Ricky Lindo Jr. to help Maryland defensively.

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“Our bench was terrific,” Turgeon said. “Sometimes guys aren’t playing enough. They’re not into it. Our guys were into it tonight. It was great to see.”

After the Terps fell behind the Wildcats 10-0 in the first 3½ minutes by missing their first five shots, including four from beyond the arc, Turgeon went to his bench. All three players, along with little-used redshirt junior forward Joshua Tomaic, led Maryland’s first run.

Serrel Smith, who came to College Park known mostly for his offense and has developed into one of the team’s best on-the-ball defenders, hit two quick 3′s. Lindo also hit a 3 and grabbed four defensive rebounds. Tomaic made a free throw after being fouled on a backdoor cut.

While Wiggins wound up scoring 11 of his career-high 17 points after starting the second half, Smith and Lindo continued to help the Terps defensively in the second half as Turgeon shortened his bench during runs of 13-2 and 16-5 that helped Maryland win easily.

“Our bench presence was really good today,” Wiggins said. “I think Ricky and Serrel had really great minutes as well. Josh came in at one point, he had one free throw, drew a foul. Eventually everybody found their way and they [the starters] started to play more comfortable, more confident and with more passion and that was huge for us.”

Pat Spencer is one of the best stories in college basketball, not just the Big Ten.

If you didn’t know that Northwestern graduate transfer Pat Spencer had spent the past four years becoming the best lacrosse player in the country at Loyola Maryland, you might think that he was just a terrific college basketball player who combined his mental toughness and obvious physical talent in a hard-to-handle package.

When Northwestern jumped to its 15-point lead in the first half and led by 14 at halftime, the former Boys’ Latin star was leading the Wildcats in their bid for the school’s first win over a ranked opponent since beating No. 9 seed Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2017 NCAA tournament. If not for a defensive move Turgeon made midway through the second half, the Wildcats might have had another one.

“Pat Spencer was killing us,” Turgeon said of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound point guard from Davidsonville, who finished with team-highs of 17 points and nine rebounds. “We moved Wiggs over to him late, get some size onto him, get Anthony off of him and it really helped.”

Spencer was in the middle of what Collins thought was the game’s biggest sequence, one that seemed to turn in Maryland’s favor for good.

It came with a little under three minutes to go and the Terps up 67-63. Spencer, who earlier had erased Maryland’s first lead of the game at 56-55 with a couple of free throws and a tough reverse layup, pulled down a defensive rebound off a block of a layup by Darryl Morsell and raced upcourt.

Spencer, who had also tied the game at 61 with a jumper in the lane, seemed to be on the verge of scoring on another driving layup. This time, the ball rolled off the rim and Jalen Smith was fouled by Northwestern forward Pete Nance going for the rebound.

Smith, who went 9-for-9 from the line to help the Terps shoot 26-for-29 on free throws, hit both.

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“Instead of it going to two-[point deficit] it went to six,” Collins said. “Then we didn’t score and they went down and hit a 3 [also by Smith]. I thought those couple of possessions, that was the separation they needed. Their speed and quickness started to wear us down.”

Spencer said afterwards that playing against his home state school, one which he never faced on the lacrosse field, provided a little extra motivation.

“It is a little more fuel in the fire being from Maryland,” said Spencer, who won the 2019 Tewaaraton Award, given to the nation’s top lacrosse player, after being a finalist twice. “It definitely meant a little bit more.”

Spencer, who finished his lacrosse career as the NCAA’s all-time assist leader and second in goals, will get another shot at the Terps when Northwestern visits Xfinity Center on Feb. 18.

No. 17 Maryland@Indiana

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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