MINNEAPOLIS — The Maryland men’s basketball team’s 17-point comeback Wednesday night against Minnesota might be its most important one of the season, as it rediscovered an aspect of its offense it has neglected this season.
Here are three takeaways from No. 9 Maryland’s 74-73 win over Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Mark Turgeon fed Jalen Smith inside in the second half, and it sparked the Terps’ comeback.
The first half of Wednesday’s game for sophomore forward Jalen Smith was similar to Sunday’s loss to Ohio State, with foul trouble limiting his time on the court.
Less than five minutes into the Terps’ road matchup with the Gophers, Smith picked up two fouls and was forced to walk back to Maryland’s bench.
Smith played just four minutes in the first half as Maryland struggled to do anything inside, whether it was convert shot attempts or collect rebounds.
In the second half, Smith didn’t leave the court, and his 14-point effort in the game’s final 20 minutes helped the Terps come back from a 16-point halftime deficit.
It was Maryland’s third comeback from being down at least 14 at halftime, but the way in which the team came back might have been revealing for coach Mark Turgeon and his staff.
“We changed the way we played,” Turgeon said. "We started posting [Smith], which we haven’t done.
“We can post [Smith] more. We can change sides with the ball — teams are locking in on some of the things we’re doing ― and play with a little bit more poise in the second half.”
A dependable post game has been lacking in Maryland’s offense this season after the departure of Bruno Fernando to the NBA. Smith has been primarily used in ball-screen action and faceup opportunities on the perimeter, but he showed an aptitude to finish around the rim and through contact against one of the top big men in the country, Daniel Oturu.
“I haven’t been in the post recently,” Smith said, “so just getting back in the post, it felt good, and just being able to make moves and get an easy bucket.”
For a team that can go through major shooting struggles midgame, emphasizing Smith’s touches in the paints — similar to how the team relied on Fernando when it needed a tough basket — might be a helpful option to fall back on.
Anthony Cowan Jr. has had a rough two-game stretch offensively, but is still making his presence felt.
For the second straight game, Maryland’s senior leader had trouble finishing around the rim and making outside shots. In his program-record-setting 127th consecutive start, Anthony Cowan Jr. had another uneven game, shooting 2-for-15 from the field and missing all eight of his 3-point attempts.
Cowan’s frustration got the best of him again, as he was called for a unsportsmanlike technical foul for slapping the court after hitting the ground on a driving layup.
It’s been an uncharacteristic stretch for Cowan, who is the team’s emotional leader and steady hand on the court.
But despite Cowan’s struggles offensively, Turgeon has been pleased with how Cowan has managed the game as the team’s facilitator. In Sunday’s loss to Ohio State, Cowan recorded the team’s first five assists and finished with seven.
Against Minnesota, Cowan had nine assists and just one turnover, while making sure to provide solid defense (three steals) without fouling.
“[Cowan] did everything else,” Turgeon said. "His defense was terrific. His floor game was terrific. His leadership in the second half was terrific. [He] just can’t make a shot right now.
“But we’re also figuring out other ways to score, which is making us a better team, which is important this time of year, to figure out different ways to win.”
Jalen Smith’s absence continues to have a residual effect on the Terps.
With Smith on the bench for most of the first half, Turgeon exercised virtually every option he had to get quality minutes in the froncourt. Chol Marial, Joshua Tomaic and Ricky Lindo Jr. all played in the first half but seemed overmatched against Oturu, who recorded a game-high 28 points.
Without Smith’s presence, the team’s spacing was off at times, and the Terps allowed Oturu to get 15 points and five rebounds in the first half.
Smith’s foul trouble in the past two games have further illuminated problems with Maryland’s depth inside. He brings so much to the Terps as a scorer, rebounder and versatile defender.
While Cowan is the team’s leader, Smith is perhaps the team’s most valuable player, given the options behind him. Even while Cowan hasn’t been at the top of his game, sophomore guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins have stepped up as playmakers and scorers.
Turgeon praised the efforts of all his reserve big men, saying “guys did their part,” but going forward, it’s imperative that Maryland’s top big man can stay out of foul trouble and maximize his on-court contributions.
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