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Jalen Smith’s last-second block helps No. 9 Maryland hold off Nebraska, 72-70, for 7th straight win

“We’re a good defensive team. We weren’t tonight,” said Coach Turgeon. “We didn’t respect our opponent enough. I’ll take the blame for that."

The 200th victory for Mark Turgeon as coach of the Maryland men’s basketball team didn’t start like many of his squad’s games this season.

There was no head-scratching slow start. No double-digit comeback. Instead, it was Maryland who nearly blew a 14-point lead before holding off Nebraska’s second-half run.

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Maryland missed the first free-throw attempt of back-to-back one-and-one opportunities in the final 30 seconds, but a last-second block by sophomore forward Jalen Smith on guard Cam Mack’s layup attempt helped No. 9 Maryland secure a 72-70 win over the Cornhuskers at Xfinity Center.

“I just tried to make a play on the ball,” Smith said after the game. “Coach Turgeon also emphasizes it in practice for me, defensively, is try to get blocks off-ball and help all my teammates. I just saw him go up and I tried to take it off the rim.”

Smith (16 points, 12 rebounds), senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (13 points, 10 assists) and freshman forward Donta Scott (10 points, 10 rebounds) all recorded double doubles as the Terps picked up their seventh straight victory and remained undefeated (14-0) at home. It was the first time since 2001 that Maryland had three players register double doubles in the same game.

Maryland's Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith both were not satisfied with the play of the teams in a 72-70 win over Nebraska at the Xfinity Center.

“We’re a good defensive team. We weren’t tonight,” said a visibly displeased Turgeon. “We didn’t respect our opponent enough. I’ll take the blame for that. But we’ve also got high standards for ourselves.”

Maryland (20-4, 10-3 Big Ten) built a 13-point lead at halftime, with the help of a 10-0 run, and led by as many as 14 before Nebraska (7-17, 2-11) went on a 12-2 run to cut its deficit to two with seven minutes remaining.

“They were just being more aggressive than us,” Smith said. “We came out slow [in the second half]. Coach Turgeon warned us about that and we just let the complacency get to us. It’s just something that we’ve got to fix and they just got hot at the right time.”

After a timeout by Turgeon, Maryland reverted to a zone — which it has often used to help dig out of deficits, not preserve leads — and the Terps went on an 8-0 run to push the lead back to double digits. Sophomore guard Eric Ayala, who recorded a season-high 16 points, hit two of his four 3’s during the run.

Guard Haanif Cheatham, who entered Tuesday’s game with a calf injury, scored eight straight points for the Cornhuskers, who cut Maryland’s lead to three with 34 seconds remaining. After Ayala missed the first free-throw attempt on a one-and-one, Smith intentionally fouled Mack, who made two free throws to make it a one-point game.

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Suddenly, Maryland was one possession away from falling at home to a Nebraska team that entered Tuesday losers of eight straight games.

Cowan missed his own free throw before Smith’s block on a driving layup by Mack and subsequent free throw after he was fouled.

“It’s not the so-called ‘big game’ but we’ve got to look at it like that,” Cowan said. “And that’s on us. We’ve got to approach the game like it’s our championship every game and we didn’t do that tonight. But luckily we came out with the ‘W.’ ”

Nebraska entered the game with a size disadvantage — no player on the court for the Cornhuskers stood above 6 feet 9 — and played as such, focusing on perimeter shots for much of the night. Ten of the Cornhuskers’ first 15 shots came from beyond the arc, and Nebraska made just seven of their 33 attempts from long range.

After shooting 27% from the field in the first half, Nebraska made 54% of their shots in the second half and outscored Maryland 24-16 in the paint.

“We talked about how selective we needed to be at the rim because of Jalen Smith’s ability to protect the rim, what fuels their [fastbreak],” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game.

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The Cornhuskers were also playing without junior guard Dachon Burke Jr., the team’s second-leading scorer, who did not make the trip to College Park because of the flu.

Turgeon rode his starters for the majority of the second half; only eight players saw the court, with every starter playing at least 30 minutes. Cowan sat for all of 40 seconds in the first half before returning to the court. Freshman center Chol Marial, playing for the first time since Feb. 4 against Rutgers, added two points and two rebounds in six minutes.

Ayala described the team’s locker room after the win as “weird,” as the team didn’t know which emotions to feel after squeaking out a victory at home against one of the worst teams in the conference.

Maryland stayed atop the Big Ten ahead of Saturday night’s nationally televised game against Michigan State in East Lansing, but it took all of 40 minutes and every bit of Smith’s 7-foot-plus wingspan to do so.

“If you’re going to have a flat game, have it at home against a team that’s won two [in the conference] and figure out how to win it,” Turgeon said. "We got lucky, we miss those two free-throws and they could have won. Kid could have made a layup, we could have lost.

“But I’m not concerned. I know what our limitations are. I know who we are. We’ve overcome it a lot and my guys, when they have to get it done, they get it done. ... We’ll regroup. We’ll take tomorrow off. I’ll do a better job and we’ll get after it on Thursday. We’ll be back to who we are.”

No. 9 Maryland@Michigan State

Saturday, 6 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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