When Jordan Murphy scored the first four points of the second half to put Minnesota back into the lead Thursday night, the crowd at Xfinity Center got nervous. And quiet.
For good reason, it already had watched Maryland waste a 13-0 run midway through the first half as what had become an eight-point lead was cut to one by halftime.
Something — or somebody — had to wake up a team badly in need of a win playing against an opponent that was just as undermanned, and just as desperate as the Terps.
It was a collective effort that resulted in a 21-2 run, one that wasn’t wasted in what turned out to be a 77-66 victory before an announced 13,736.
“We didn’t like the way we ended the [first] half at all,” said sophomore guard Kevin Huerter. “We kept talking about it, when we built leads to eight or nine, we want to get up to 15 of 16 and not be content with where we’re at. That’s something we talked about in the locker room [at halftime]. We came out with a lot better energy and started to guard better, too.”
The playmaking of Huerter and fellow sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. during that run, as well as senior center Michal Cekovsky finally finishing at the rim on offense and protecting it on defense, was the difference.
Asked what the difference was in the way his team played after making the two scoring runs, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said: “Our offense was really clicking in the second half. And we were able to build the lead because we were really good defensively for the first 10 minutes of the second half to get it up to 16 or 17 — I don’t know what it was. And we were just good enough to maintain it. I think they cut it to nine once. We were just really good offensively. We shared the ball. We did some really nice things.”
The victory helped Maryland (15-6, 4-4) break a two-game losing streak, both on the road, and helped the Terps put Monday night’s gut-wrenching 68-67 defeat behind them.
“After the game we all just sat there for like 20 minutes just in shock, kind of irritated by it. Coach really made sure to tell us that we had to leave that game behind and move on,” Cowan said. “I think we really locked in on the Minnesota game plan and came out with the win.”
Huerter, who hit what appeared to be the game-winning 3-pointer in Ann Arbor, led the Terps with 19 points, 11 in the first half, on 6-for-8 from the field, including 4-for-5 on 3-pointers. He also had eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
Cekovsky, who was the beneficiary of many of Cowan’s career-high 10 assists and some of Huerter’s five assists, finished with 17 points, one short of tying his career high, on 7-for-10 shooting. He also had four blocks and two steals.
Cowan, who didn’t score his first point until hitting a corner 3 with 11:31 left in the game and then quickly made another from the same spot, wound up with 15 points and six rebounds. It was his second career double double.
Freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) added 13 points — making five of eight shots, including his only 3-point attempt — to go along with five rebounds.
“I don’t think we were leaning on two guys to do all our scoring tonight,” Turgeon said. “We were just out there playing basketball, running old-school motion a little bit. Guys were reading the defense a little bit and let the game come to them. It's a lot more fun as a coach and a team when you’re not just getting shots for your top two guys.”
Making Murphy work
Murphy, who came into the game third in the Big Ten in scoring (18.1) and first in rebounding (12.1), led Minnesota (14-7, 3-5) with 19 points on 7-for-17 shooting and had 14 rebounds. More than half his points and rebounds — 14 points and eight rebounds — came in the second half after the Terps had taken control.
“If we don’t hit shots, it’s really easy to guard us,” said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, when asked about Murphy shooting 2-for-8 before halftime.
Said Turgeon: “That kid’s a load, man. Nineteen points on 17 shots. He had a hard time scoring over Ceko tonight.”
Since the Gophers lost sophomore forward Amir Coffey indefinitely with a shoulder injury and senior center Reggie Lynch was suspended amid new allegations of sexual assault, opposing teams have been able to double-team Murphy.
Starting and finishing first halves still a problem
After scoring on its first two shots on as many possessions to start the game, Maryland went more than 5½ minutes between a pair of field goals by Morsell.
The result was Minnesota taking the early lead and taking out of the game whatever crowd that came for the game — and it wasn’t nearly what was announced.
But after going on a 13-0 run to eventually lead by as many as eight, 29-21, with 3:29 left in the first half, the Terps seemed to lose their focus. They went scoreless, and allowed the Gophers cut the deficit to one.
In that stretch, Maryland committed three turnovers and missed all three of its shots.
Tomaic’s adapting to new role, more minutes
Redshirt freshman forward Joshua Tomaic, who played sparingly (17 minutes in five games) or not at all (six others) in the first 11 games of the season, was the first big man off the bench against the Gophers.
Tomaic, whose role has expanded dramatically with the season-ending injuries to forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender, came in with just 3:37 gone after Fernando was whistled for an early foul. With Fernando limited to nine minutes because of foul trouble, Tomaic played 25, finishing with seven points, five rebounds and two assists.
“That’s a lot of minutes,” Turgeon said. “He was really good in the second half against Michigan and made some big-time plays for us. I thought tonight he was better defensively. He has a great feel for the game for what we are doing. He’s got some guard skills to him. He’s getting confident.”
Wiley rusty in his return
Redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley, who sat out the previous two games after suffering a concussion in a 91-73 home win over Iowa on Jan. 7, returned Thursday.
Wiley, who had scored 10 points in the first half against the Hawkeyes before getting hurt early in the second half, looked a bit rusty — and rushed — in missing all four shots. He went scoreless in 15 minutes.
His last — a needless corner 3 early in the shot clock with Maryland up 11 with a little over three minutes left after leading by 17 earlier in the second half — was enough for Turgeon to explode on the sideline and put Tomaic back in.
MINNESOTA (14-7): Murphy 7-17 4-4 19, Konate 1-2 0-0 2, McBrayer 3-12 3-5 9, Mason 5-16 3-3 14, Harris 3-7 2-2 10, Diedhiou 0-1 0-0 0, Fitzgerald 3-5 2-2 10, Hurt 1-1 0-1 2, Washington 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 23-64 14-17 66.
MARYLAND (15-6): Fernando 1-3 2-2 4, Cekovsky 7-10 3-4 17, Cowan 3-7 7-8 15, Huerter 6-8 3-4 19, Morsell 5-8 2-2 13, Tomaic 2-3 2-4 7, Obi 1-1 0-0 2, Wiley 0-4 0-0 0, Nickens 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-45 19-24 77.
Halftime—Maryland 29-28. 3-point goals—Minnesota 6-17 (Fitzgerald 2-3, Harris 2-4, Murphy 1-2, Mason 1-6, McBrayer 0-2), Maryland 8-14 (Huerter 4-5, Cowan 2-3, Morsell 1-1, Tomaic 1-2, Nickens 0-1, Wiley 0-2). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—Minnesota 28 (Murphy 14), Maryland 31 (Huerter 8). Assists—Minnesota 11 (McBrayer, Mason 5), Maryland 18 (Cowan 10). Total fouls—Minnesota 18, Maryland 15. A—13,736 (17,950).