The youngest men’s basketball team in the Big Ten came to a 90-year arena Tuesday night looking to extend its three-game winning streak and build off one of its best performances of the season in Saturday’s 14-point road win at Rutgers.
In the process, Maryland proved again that it is improving. And coach Mark Turgeon might have shocked a few of his critics by going to a zone defense that helped the Terps overcome a six-point halftime deficit and blow out Minnesota, 82-67, at Williams Arena.
Junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. tied a career high with 27 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists to lead Maryland (13-3, 4-1 Big Ten). Freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph), who has been the catalyst in the recent winning streak, finished with a career-high 21 points and added eight rebounds.
Junior guard Amir Coffey led Minnesota (12-3, 2-2) with 16 points.
Unable to stop the Gophers early in the second half — and with sophomore center Bruno Fernando on the bench because of foul trouble — the Terps trailed 54-47 early in the second half. Often criticized for not making in-game adjustments, Turgeon used his team’s defensive length and went to a 3-2 zone
Sparked by freshman forward Ricky Lindo Jr. at both ends of the floor, the Terps went on a 9-0 run to take the lead on a pair of free throws by Cowan with 11:37 left in the game. Lindo had a block, a steal and hit a rare 3-pointer to pull the Terps within two, 54-52.
After a drive by Coffey, a 3-pointer by fellow freshman Aaron Wiggins gave the Terps a 59-56 lead. Maryland extended its lead to four, 62-58, on a hook shot by Fernando and had a chance to push it even higher.
But Cowan lost the ball in traffic and freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur, who scored 10 points early in the first half before picking up two fouls, buried a 3-pointer after the Gophers missed a couple shots inside.
Just as the fans seemed to get their voice back, the Terps quieted them just as quickly, as Maryland kept answering. After Coffey hit a 3 to cut Maryland’s lead to 69-65, Cowan came right back with one of his own with a little under four minutes left.
Ben Coleman, who started his career at Minnesota and finished it at Maryland, was honored with a moment of silence before Tuesday night’s game. Coleman, who returned to his home in the Twin Cities after his 12-year professional career ended, died Sunday at age 57.
After averaging a little over five points and three rebounds for the Gophers — he was the first African-American player from Minneapolis to play for Minnesota — Coleman went to Maryland, where he averaged nearly 15 points and eight rebounds in two seasons.
As a senior in 1983-84, Coleman helped coach Lefty Driesell win his first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship and Maryland win its second in 16 years. Coleman is the second player from that team to pass away. The first was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Len Bias, who died two years later after being the No. 2 overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft.
Coleman was drafted in the second round of the 1984 draft by the Chicago Bulls (No. 37 overall). He never played a game for the Bulls, but wound up playing a total of 227 games in the NBA, most of them for the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets. He remains second all-time in field goal percentage at Maryland, behind Buck Williams. Coleman made 376 of 638 shots (58.9 percent).
As impressive as Maryland’s win at Rutgers was Saturday, this was by far the best performance by the Terps this season. The Terps were helped by their new-found depth, especially by Lindo, who finished with six points and six rebounds. Who knows? Maybe the zone defense will become a permanent part of Maryland’s game plan.