Anthony Cowan Jr.'s last-minute 3, Jalen Smith's bounce-back crucial to Maryland's win over Penn State

Maryland junior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. is not a great 3-point shooter — except it seems when the shot clock is winding down and the game is on the line, as it was in Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Penn State.

It’s not that Cowan practices those situations in his head, or in the quiet of Xfinity Center when a crowd isn’t there. And it’s not that Cowan doesn’t recall the big shots he’s hit during his career as a Terp.

So, after burying a 3-pointer from about 27 feet with three seconds left on the shot clock and 33.9 seconds on the game clock to help No. 24 Maryland hold on for a 66-59 victory Saturday, a reporter asked Cowan if it reminded him of one against Oklahoma State.

Butler,” Cowan said with a polite smile. “Same move.”

Much more important shot, and much more significant result.

The one last year helped the Terps pull away from the Bulldogs to win easily in the Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup between the Big East and Big Ten, turning a five-point lead into eight in what became a 14-point win. This one came with Maryland (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten) up 61-59 and unable to put Penn State (4-3, 0-1) away.

“My coaches really kept the confidence in me as well as my teammates,” Cowan said. “When I saw the chance to shoot one when time was coming down, I decided ‘Why not?’ ”

Cowan, who finished with 15 points and had missed four of his five previous 3-pointers in the game, and also had a game-high six turnovers. Freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) led the Terps with 16 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore center Bruno Fernando had his third straight double double and fourth of the season, with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

It didn’t surprise Cowan’s coach, Mark Turgeon, or Penn State coach Patrick Chambers.

“He’s made a ton of those, maybe not a lot of them late in the game like that when the shot clock’s going down,” Turgeon said. “That's why you recruit. We were getting a little confused, when they were switching, not switching and we weren’t recognizing situations late in the game very well late in the game. But that was a big-time shot.”

Said Chambers: “He’s got a very short-term memory. He’s got amnesia. He had six turnovers, but that’s not going to affect him. It’s not going to affect the way he plays. He’s still going to be on attack. … He’s a winner, and what winners do is they rise to the occasion in the last four minutes of the game and he hits big shots.”

Turgeon said it was reminiscent of one of his former stars.

“Melo [Trimble] did it for us a lot,” Turgeon said. “And now Anthony did it tonight. It was a big-time shot. I’m just proud of him. I thought he was much better in the second half. His defense was terrific. We just got to take care of the ball better.”

‘Stix’ steps up

After scoring just six points and grabbing five rebounds in Wednesday’s 76-71 loss to No. 4 Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Smith had one of his better games of the season.

Asked what the difference was between the two games, Smith said, “I think it was me just forgetting the last game. It did have like a toll on me because of the way I played [against Virginia], I didn’t think I played so well. I came into this game just forgetting what happened in the past and just kept on playing.”

Not only did Smith hit seven of 12 shots — including his second made 3-pointer of the season — but the 6-foot-10, 215-pound forward also played tough defense on Penn State star Lamar Stevens, who needed 24 shots to score a team-high 19 points. Senior guard Josh Reaves finished with 17, but didn’t score in the second half.

“Jalen Smith had his best game defensively since he’s been here,” Turgeon said. “He did a great job on Stevens. His length was terrific. … That’s a huge deal today, what ‘Stix’ did. That’s a heckuva player that ‘Stix’ was guarding and to take that next step for us was really big.”

Fernando, who became the first Maryland player to have three straight double doubles since Jordan Williams in 2011, recalled hitting Smith in his chest during the game and giving him some words of encouragement.

“I told him that he had to stay true to who he is and keep doing the things that he does to help us win, because we need him a lot,” Fernando said. “He’s a big piece for us. He’s going to help us win a lot of games.”

Foul differential irks Chambers

A year ago, Maryland beat Penn State at home, 75-69, with the help of a huge discrepancy at the free-throw line. The Terps hit 23 of 34 compared to just 2-for-4 for the Nittany Lions.

On Saturday, Maryland was able to stay close in the first half after a five-minute cold spell turned an early nine-point lead into an eight-point deficit. The Terps were able to trim their deficit to one by halftime by hitting 13 of 17 from the line — including 8-for-8 for Fernando, who didn’t have a first-half field goal — while the Nittany Lions went 0-for-2.

For the game, Maryland hit 18 of 25 from the foul line while Penn State went 4-for-6.

When a reporter mentioned last year’s free-throw differential as “24-4,” Chambers gave the correct number by adding 10 to Maryland’s total. Asked about the impact that had Saturday, Chambers said, “You know, we’ve just got to have a great attitude. We’ve got to be more disciplined. It’s unfortunate. It is what it is.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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