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Maryland basketball relying on freshman Anthony Cowan to play confidently

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon often sits down with his players when they are in the midst of a slump or coming off a particularly bad game. He uses the time to pump up their confidence and get to the heart of the problem.

In the case of Anthony Cowan, the most recent pep talk came last week after the freshman guard had struggled in back-to-back losses to Purdue and Penn State. Cowan shot a combined 2-for-15 in those games, with many of his shots forced.

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"I met with Anthony on Thursday and I said, 'Anthony, here's what I want: The last seven games I want you to lead the league in assists and be the best defender; I don't care if you score,'" Turgeon recalled after Cowan helped the the Terps beat Ohio State, 86-77, at Xfinity Center on Saturday.

Cowan had four assists and one turnover against the Buckeyes, but he also led Maryland with 19 points, 16 in the second half. He hit three of four 3-pointers, including one to seal the win with 41 seconds left, and made all 10 of his free-throw attempts.

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"Because you talk about that, it takes the pressure off the other part [scoring]," Turgeon said after the game. "He hit the first one, and he got to the foul line, which was great. I still want him to lead in assists the last seven games, and I want him to be the best defender. He was better defensively tonight. It's nice, especially on a night when Melo [Trimble] is not scoring, Justin [Jackson] is not scoring."

Cowan will have another challenge Wednesday, when No. 23 Maryland (21-4, 9-3) plays at Northwestern (19-6, 8-5). Having often drawn the opposing team's top-scoring guard, the 6-foot Cowan could spend some time trying to stop 6-3 junior Bryant McIntosh, who is coming off a season-high 25 points and seven assists in his team's 66-59 win Sunday at then-No. 7 Wisconsin.

Recalling the conversation he had with Turgeon, Cowan said: "I don't think it took the pressure off my shot; I think it really just focused me. I think the last couple of games I was trying to force a couple in to make sure I get on the board, but this game I just wanted to lay back and get my teammates involved as much as I can. I was left open a little bit, so I was able to make a shot."

Trimble found Cowan alone on the left wing early in the game, and Cowan calmly buried a 3-point shot to give the Terps a 7-0 lead. Cowan later did the same for a 3-pointer by senior forward L.G. Gill before picking up his second foul with 10:33 left and sitting out the rest of the half.

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Still, hitting the first shot helped Cowan's confidence, as did spending extra hours in the gym after the loss at Penn State.

"It's definitely big, hitting my first shot. It gives me confidence throughout the whole game," said Cowan, who entered the game having missed his previous 11 3-point attempts over a five-game stretch. "…I saw I was a little more open as the game went on, so I figured, why not take another one...and another."

Though he only attempted five shots from the field, Cowan was aggressive, getting to the free-throw for nine attempts in the second half. The late 3-pointer, after the Buckeyes had cut what had been a 14-point halftime deficit to five for a second time, helped seal the game.

Cowan let it fly right as the 30-second shot clock was about to expire, following a similar shot by fellow freshman Kevin Huerter with a little more than two minutes left.

"I just [took] what the defense gave me," Cowan said. "That's what Coach Turgeon's message was to me, just not overthinking it, and making my decision before anything happens."

His teammates could notice Cowan's renewed confidence. A player who has trouble hiding his emotions at times, Cowan seemed to show a different body language than he did recently, in particular at Penn State.

"He definitely played a lot more confident," said Huerter, who finished with 18 points. "I really think it has to do with [if] you hit your first shot. When guys hit their first shot, you play with a lot more confidence the rest of the game. Not only was he was scoring, he was making his free throws and he was finding guys, and setting up other people for shots. We know he can do that every game and we have a lot of confidence in him."

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