When Michigan sophomore forward Isaiah Livers buried a 3-pointer to give the Wolverines men’s basketball team the lead with a little over nine minutes left against No. 17 Maryland on Sunday at a solid-out Xfinity Center, nobody realized that the clinic was about to begin.
The shots kept falling for No. 9 Michigan — from junior point guard Zavier Simpson's sweeping 1950s style hooks to freshman guard Iggy Brazdeikis’ array of mid-range runners and 3-pointers, to another dagger 3 by junior center Jon Teske.
By the time the clinic ended with the Wolverines erasing what had been an unbeaten home Big Ten record for the Terps with a 69-62 victory, Maryland sophomore guard Darryl Morsell said that he was as impressed in Michigan’s offense as he was disappointed in the outcome.
“They’re real poised,” Morsell said. “One thing I noticed about them was their spacing. Sometimes with our young guys, just with us in general, our spacing gets clogged up in the paint for Anthony [Cowan Jr.] when he’s driving, for Bruno [Fernando] here and there.
“Michigan’s spacing was phenomenal throughout the game. It gave the point guard Simpson lanes to drive, utilize his hook shot. It gave the rest of their players lanes to drive. Also having a center to be able to shoot the ball like Teske helped with their spacing as well.”
Not only was Michigan (26-4, 15-4 Big Ten) able to score on its last nine possessions (excluding the final 17 seconds to run out the clock), but the Wolverines were also able to shut down Cowan until the last few minutes and Fernando for much of the game.
Playing without senior wing Charles Matthews, Michigan had all five starters — all of whom played between 32 and 38 minutes — score in double figures, led by Brazdeikis, who had 21 points, and Simpson, who finished with 12 points and 10 assists.
Conversely, Maryland’s two leading scorers struggled.
Cowan missed 10 of his first 11 shots, including six straight 3-pointers, and finished 4-for-15 from the field, including 1-for-7 on 3s, to finish with 10 mostly moot points.
Fernando scored a team-high 12 points, but shot 5-for-13 from the field and impacted the game more with his career-high six blocks.
“I thought Bruno had some point-blank shots that he normally makes, so maybe he [Teske] was in his head,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said.
Fernando thought his inability to finish inside as he normally does had more to do with Teske’s defense than anything else.
“He’s a heck of a player. He’s a great defensive presence for them in the paint,” said Fernando, whose 10 rebounds gave the 6-foot-10 Angolan his 19th double double of the season. “I still think and believe I got the shots that I wanted, they just weren’t falling.”
While the effort and execution for Maryland (21-9, 12-7) was much better overall than it was in Wednesday’s 17-point loss at Penn State, Cowan’s performance was similar. Most of his points came after the game was decided. He also had four turnovers to just one assist after having five turnovers and no assists against the Nittany Lions.
Asked if he considered taking Cowan out of the game in the second half, Turgeon said: “Our timeouts are like 3 ½ minutes, so you can lecture at the timeout. He had about three or four roll all the way in and come out. If he had just a couple of those go in, that would have helped.
“They did a nice job on him. They’ve got great size. I thought he [Cowan] was trying as hard as he could out there, he just really couldn’t get anything going. We had a couple of plays and got him some good looks, they just weren’t going [in] for him. It was just one of those nights. He battled defensively giving up five or six inches to the [Jordan] Poole kid.”
The defeat not only disappointed what was only the season’s second sellout, but was deflating to Turgeon because of the presence of many of the program’s biggest former stars, including Melo Trimble and Joe Smith, as well as Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams, who were all part of the 100-year celebration weekend.
The back-to-back defeats, which means the Terps have now split their past eight games, will also raise questions about Maryland’s inability to finish strong for a third straight season. There is one more regular-season game on senior night Friday at home against Minnesota before the Big Ten tournament in Chicago.
“We’re disappointed in the week, but we got better today,” Turgeon said. “Our offense was much better, we just didn’t make shots. … We were much better than we’ve been, that’s just a really good defensive team that was able to lock in. That’s a hard team to guard and our defense was pretty darn good until the very end.
“We’re just disappointed that we didn’t win. It was 100 years’ celebration, the players were back. We’re disappointed. We wanted to win. We wanted this bad today and we just couldn’t get it. We just didn’t get it done. We’ll regroup. We’ve got a chance to get to 13-7 in the toughest league I’ve ever coached against, toughest schedule, with the youngest team I’ve ever coached.”
Positive step for ’Stix’
Freshman forward Jalen Smith, who had averaged just 6.5 points over the previous four games while making 11 of 30 shots (1-for-7 3-pointers) finished with 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field, including six straight points that helped the Terps erase a 28-24 halftime deficit and take a 36-35 lead with 15:50 left in the game.
While he later took and missed a questionable 3-point shot coming out of the under-12 minute media timeout and Maryland ahead 43-41, and missed a pair of free-throw attempts with 5:41 left and the Terps trailing 48-45 (which was followed by a 3-point shot by Brazdeikis), it was a better all-around performance by the former McDonald’s All American from Mount Saint Joseph.
“Wasn’t that great? It was good to see,” Turgeon said. “He hit the first 3-pointer (on Maryland’s first basket) and then he got into foul trouble [with two fouls in the first 8:21 of the game] … Jalen made some big time plays, offensive rebounds around the basket. I know he’s feeling better about himself. That’s a big positive moving forward.”
A TV reporter back in Michigan came up with Simpson’s new nickname because of his penchant to hit shots that are from another time, very long ago. Of the six shots he made in seven attempts, four of them were long sweeping hooks.
“It’s definitely something he mastered,” said Morsell, who made some tough shots himself, though more modern-day and conventional in scoring 10 points. “I felt like every one he hit were at pivotal points in the game. Credit to him. He’s got it mastered.”
Said Turgeon: “The kid makes the four sky hooks, are you kidding me? One I can get, but four? How terrific is he. He’s the whole difference in the game.”