Similar to last season, the Maryland men’s basketball team entered the Breslin Center on Saturday late in their conference slate and winners of seven straight. Last year’s game served as a measuring stick for the young Terps, a team that fielded nine underclassmen and ended up leaving East Lansing with a 14-point loss.
Maryland returned to Breslin Center a year later as an older, more experienced and better team, coming away with a 67-60 win over the Spartans.
After blowing a 15-point first-half lead and being down by as many as seven late in the second half, the Terps ended the game with 14 straight points and a personal 11-0 run by senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who scored a game-high 24 points.
“Whenever you can come into this building — which is I think one of the best buildings in the country — and beat one of I think the best coaches in our generation [Tom Izzo], it’s exciting,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after the game.
“We just gutted it out. This team fights and the games that we’ve won close in the league, the last three or four minutes defensively, we’ve been exceptional.”
The 15-point advantage in the first half was Maryland’s largest lead on the road this season, but Michigan State trimmed its deficit to 39-31 at the break by closing the half on a 7-0 run.
Maryland (21-4, 11-3 Big Ten) missed its last four shots of the first half and did not score in the final two minutes and 57 seconds.
While Michigan State (17-9, 9-6) shot better than Maryland in the first half, 42% for the Spartans compared to the Terps’ 40%, the Terps made five of their 11 3-point attempts and 10 of their 11 free-throw attempts.
A turnover by Maryland on one possession and fastbreak dunk by Michigan State that cut Maryland’s lead to six prompted a timeout by Turgeon just one minute into the second half.
Michigan State began the second half on an 8-2 run and cut Maryland’s lead to one at several points during the second half. The Spartans took their first lead since early in the first half after a three by senior guard Cassius Winston (14 points, five assists) gave them a 54-51 lead with seven minutes remaining.
Junior forward Xavier Tillman, who Turgeon said he believed may have had a “career night,” led Michigan State with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Michigan State gained its largest lead of the game at seven with under four minutes remaining but a 3-pointer at the 3:08 mark by Smith jumpstarted Maryland’s 14-0 run.
“We were just rushing and forcing a lot of stuff that we don’t normally do,” said sophomore forward Jalen Smith, who extended his double-double streak to eight games with 17 points and 10 rebounds. “We just had to get back in our composure and just make sure that we finished out the game strong.”
Cowan took over after with three straight 3′s and two made free-throws, stunning the crowd at Breslin Center and giving the Terps their eighth straight win, their most in conference play since joining the Big Ten. Maryland had lost its last three games to Michigan State, with its last win coming during the 2016-17 season.
“My teammates set me up really well there,” Cowan said of his final three-minute stretch. “[Junior guard] Darryl [Morsell] in the corner, [sophomore guard] Aaron [Wiggins] on the wing and then ‘Stix’ (Smith) with a great ball screen. I was just able to hit shots. My teammates really set me up, and I just had to finish the play.”
Maryland missed its first 10 3-point attempts of the second half but made all four of their tries as they came back from the seven-point deficit.
Just a month ago, Maryland held a one-point lead late at Wisconsin before Morsell failed to execute an inbounds pass and a Wisconsin three gave the Terps a 56-54 loss.
One month removed from the “devastating” defeat, as Turgeon characterized it, he was asked to assess how his team has grown since that moment. Turgeon admitted that his team “didn’t believe we could win that game.” Now, his team’s confidence is higher, displayed by a win in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball and against a team that has long been the standard-bearer in the Big Ten.
“It means a lot,” Turgeon said, “whenever you can beat Michigan State in this building, because they’re the class of the league. They have been for a long time, so whenever you can get that win, it means a lot.”