Senior night at Xfinity Center began for Maryland with little-used forward Ivan Bender kneeling at midcourt and proposing to his longtime girlfriend Friday.
It ended with coach Mark Turgeon wearing a towel around his neck to his postgame news conference in honor of his team’s other senior, former walk-on Andrew Terrell.
In between, junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and freshman forward Jalen Smith helped the No. 24 Terps end their two-game losing streak with a 69-60 win over Minnesota.
Cowan, who played poorly in losses at Penn State and to then-No. 9 Michigan, came out his personal funk with a team-high 21 points and five assists.
Smith (Mount Saint Joseph), who had started to emerge from his own slump in the second half of Sunday’s 69-62 loss to the Wolverines, added 19 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high-tying three blocks, including monstrous rejection of a dunk attempt by Jordan Murphy. Maryland is now 10-0 when Smith scores at least 15 points.
“He’s stepping in the right direction, where we all want him to be,” said sophomore forward Bruno Fernando, who after foul trouble in the first half finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds for his 20th double double of the season. “Now we’ve got to keep feeding him the ball.”
The victory in the regular-season finale gave Maryland (22-9, 13-7 Big Ten) some much-needed momentum going into next week’s Big Ten tournament in Chicago and helped take some away from Minnesota (19-12, 9-11), coming off a win over No. 11 Purdue on senior night in Minneapolis.
“It was huge for us,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “I said this [Thursday] from the Michigan game. I know we didn’t win it, I was encouraged by our effort, the way we defended. They just made plays down the stretch. We weren’t quite good enough to get over the hump.”
Turgeon said his team, which hadn’t played since losing Sunday, practiced well going into Friday’s game. The ease with which the Terps won — leading by 12 at halftime and by as many as 22 points in the second half — surprised even him.
“I didn’t think it would be quite that easy,” Turgeon said. “I know the [final] score only says nine, but we were [up] 20 a lot of that second half. It was great. I could tell our guys were locked in at practice … and it carried over into tonight’s game."
Cowan, who had come out sluggishly, hitting just one of his 11 3-point tries as Maryland lost the previous two games, started fast Friday. He hit his first three shots and finished 8-for-17 overall, including 3-for-6 on 3s.
Smith, who has started slowly in several games and scored in single digits in four straight before putting up 11 points against Michigan, hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the game and wound up 6-for-12 from the field. He was also 3-for-6 on 3-pointers.
“It was great to see Anthony hit a few shots, and ‘Stix’ was terrific,” Turgeon said. “I thought it started with [Smith’s defense] and he really battled, then he hit a couple of 3s.”
Said Cowan: “I got it going a little bit earlier today rather than doing everything I need to do in the second half. That was a good feeling.”
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino had seen that combination — along with Fernando — perform well in a 15-point Maryland win Jan. 8.
“I think those three, with Bruno included, are about as talented as any three players [on the same team] in our league,” Pitino said. “They’ve got great size. They’ve got great depth. They’re just young. Sometimes they look really good, like they did tonight.
“Sometimes they’re going to look bad. That’s what happens when you have a really young team. But Cowan’s been a terrific player in this league for a long time. Jalen is a really good freshman. When Jalen’s hitting 3s and then he’s driving you, he’s tough to cover.”
Junior guard Amir Coffey, who had scored 63 points over his previous two games, led Minnesota with 23 points. His 17 points in the second half helped cut Maryland’s 22-point lead into single digits by game’s end.
Bender’s senior moment
After barely playing much this season, including not getting off the bench the previous six games, Bender wound up playing three minutes Friday. But it was what the senior from Bosnia & Herzegovina did before the game that Maryland fans might remember for years to come.
Telling only Turgeon of his plans — with the coach slipping Bender the box with the ring as he walked onto the court — Bender surprised his longtime girlfriend, Andrea Knezevic, by asking her to marry him during the senior night ceremony. Bender joked about how hard it was to keep it from Knezevic, who has been visiting from their hometown for the past two weeks.
Bender said his girlfriend, whom he has known since grade school and dated since high school, had kept asking him when he was going to pop the question.
“It was hard. She was very boring and annoying,” he said with a smile. “She kept asking questions about it, but I couldn’t tell her. She’s now happy that I didn’t say anything. It worked out, but she was annoying. Nothing bad. I said, ‘Stop asking the questions. I can’t tell you anything.’ ”
Said Turgeon: “What a great night, from Ivan surprising his teammates and asking his girlfriend to marrying him, and her saying ‘Yes’ — which I was really worried about. It was really cool.
“To be able to get Andrew into the game [in the final minute], which was great. Senior night's hard to script. The building was great again tonight. Our fans were terrific. … Tonight we were just really good. … It was just a great regular season for us.”
Cutting down on turnovers
Maryland, which has committed the most turnovers in the Big Ten this season, made just 10 against the Golden Gophers, who had 13. It marked the first time this season that the Terps had fewer than their opponent in a Big Ten game.
Cowan had just two, and sophomore guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) has now committed no turnovers in back-to-back game for the first time all season. Morsell, who scored 10 points Friday, has seven assists (three against Minnesota) in the two games.
Fernando among five left for Abdul-Jabbar Award
Fernando, who has made one of the biggest improvements of any player in the country this season, on Friday was named one of five finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given to the nation’s top center.
The four others also still in contention are Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Georgetown’s Jessie Govan, Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey and William & Mary’s Nathan Knight. Fernando is considered a likely first-team All-Big Ten selection and a potential first-round pick in the 2019 NBA draft.