In talking about his team’s next opponent in advance of Friday’s game at Xfinity Center, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Thursday that the Minnesota Golden Gophers have “been playing with their backs against the wall” in their hunt for an NCAA tournament bid.
While the Terps locked up a bid weeks ago, Turgeon could have been talking about his own team.
Coming into senior night having lost two straight games — not to mention six of 11 — No. 24 Maryland needed some momentum going into next week’s Big Ten tournament in Chicago as well as the NCAA tournament.
Led by junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and freshman forward Jalen Smith, the Terps certainly accomplished that with a 69-60 victory Friday night over a Gophers team coming off a win over No. 11 Purdue on senior night in Minneapolis.
Cowan, who played poorly in losses at Penn State on Feb. 27 and to then-No. 9 Michigan on Sunday, led Maryland (22-9, 13-7 Big Ten) with 21 points and five assists. Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) added 19 points and 11 rebounds. Maryland improved to 10-0 when Smith scores at least 15 points.
While Smith registered the fourth double double of his career and second in a Big Ten game, sophomore center Bruno Fernando got his 20th this season. Limited to three points and four rebounds in the first half after picking up two early fouls, Fernando finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Junior guard Amir Coffey, who had scored 63 points over his previous two games, led Minnesota (19-12, 9-11) with 23 points. His 17 points in the second half helped cut Maryland’s 22-point lead into single digits by game’s end.
Maryland will need a lot of help to get a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament. In order for the Terps to finish fourth, Purdue has to beat Northwestern, Michigan State has to beat Michigan in East Lansing, Mich., and Wisconsin has to lose to Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio.
Maryland has not lost a game this season when Smith has scored 15 points or more. The 6-foot-10 forward and former McDonald's All-American from Baltimore was more engaged than he has been at both ends of the floor, highlighted by a monster block on Jordan Murphy in the second half. If he continues to play this way, the Terps might have a chance to make a run in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.