No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball overcame a blown 15-point lead Saturday against Michigan State and won 67-60, extending its win streak to eight.
Here’s what we took away from the Terps’ first win in East Lansing since 2014.
1. Maryland slowed down Cassius Winston
Entering Saturday’s contest, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon called Michigan State guard Cassius Winston “one of the smartest guys” he’s ever coached against.
In order to counter attack the senior’s smart play, Turgeon altered his defensive approach, organizing Anthony Cowan Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell to guard him at different times — an approach that Turgeon attempted to execute in last year’s sole matchup with the Spartans.
The Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year finished with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field and 2-of-5 shooting from deep, along with five assists — a very similar stat line from last year’s meeting (14 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field and seven assists).
However, the biggest difference in Saturday’s matchup was the fact that the Terps forced Winston to turn the ball over.
With just over 10 minutes to play and Maryland holding on to a 17-14 lead, Winston was being hounded by Morsell, which was the third time that Winston was met by a different Terp. Winston crossed over and dribbled down the left side of the lane with Morsell on his hip, forcing the Spartan to throw a difficult pass behind him towards the center of the lane.
The pass ended up in the hands of Ayala, who in a three-on-two transition passed it to Donta Scott. The freshman from Philadelphia missed the layup but was fouled and made both free throws.
Unlike last year when they only forced Winson to turn it over once, the Terps caused the Michigan State leader into four turnovers.
With the Terps maintaining the lead in the final two minutes, head coach Mark Turgeon understood the capability of Winston and threw another curveball at the Spartan when he double-teamed him with Jalen Smith.
“You got to do that, right,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “[Xavier] Tilman took the wide open three and missed it and it was a little bit off. And then that’s really when I decided. … Stix was terrific the last three minutes keeping Cassius in front of him, playing shots.”
2. For the first time this season, Maryland’s frontcourt depth was tested
Concerns for the Terps’ depth behind and alongside Smith lingered after the Mitchell twins announced their transfer out of College Park on Dec. 27.
And for a while, those disappeared with Smith’s ability to score on the offensive end and protect the rim on the defensive end, along with Scott’s standout play.
But the Terps’ depth in the front court finally found itself at a crossroad Saturday after Smith picked up his second personal foul with 4:40 remaining in the first half.
Turgeon immediately pulled his star big man and replaced him with Ricky Lindo Jr., who did not play the game before Michigan State due to his lack of consistency on defense.
Nearly three minutes after he checked into the game, Lindo attempted to go through Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman to grab the offensive board. Instead of coming away with the ball, Lindo came away with a foul, pausing the clock at 1:03 and allowing Tillman to walk nearly 94-feet to the other side of the court with a one-and-one opportunity.
Before Tillman cashed in on both attempts from the charity stripe, Lindo was substituted for Joshua Tomaic.
About 30 seconds later, Michigan State was in transition when Tillman caught a pass at the top of the key. Scott stepped up to guard the Spartan big man but was undersized as Tillman executed a spin move and finished a layup over him, capping off a 7-0 Michigan State run that cut Maryland’s once 15-point lead to single digits.
“Most of the fouls in the first half — they were like clumsy fouls,” Smith said. “[In] the second half I just tried to stay out of foul trouble because I knew my team needed me on the floor to get rebounds and help play defense.”
Tillman played a large part in Maryland’s front court exposure, completing the night with a team-high 18 points — including 14 of his team’s 31 points in the first half — on 7-of-13 shooting. He also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and is the first opponent to out-rebound Smith, who finished 17 points and 10 rebounds for his eighth-straight double-double, since Joe Wieskamp (11) and Luka Garza (13) on Jan. 10.
3. Anthony Cowan Jr. was there when he needed to be
Similar to what he had done against then-No. 20 Illinois on Feb. 8 when he scored 11 of his team’s first 15 points, Cowan began the game against Michigan State with a scoring mentality.
After 1:27 without a bucket and a five-point deficit to start the game, the senior guard knocked down his first three-pointer of the night. Nearly two minutes later, Ayala brought the ball up the court and passed the ball to Smith at the top of the key. Cowan was waiting in the opposite corner until Scott set a down screen, freeing him.
With his defender going underneath the screen from Scott, the Terp guard caught the ball and made his second three-pointer of the night, giving Maryland a 6-5 lead. One minute later, the Big Ten leader in made free-throws made two shots from the charity stripe, capping off a personal 8-0 run to start the game.
In the remaining 15:28 before halftime, Cowan only scored five points and appeared to disappear in the second half.
That was true, Cowan made his first shot of the second half with 2:24 remaining to cut Maryland’s deficit to only one. Just under a minute later, Cowan notched his second three-pointer of the half, giving the Terps a 62-60 advantage.
But Cowan wasn’t done as he made another three-pointer with 23 seconds left, which finally put the Spartans away for good.
“He’s a big time player — that’s what you do for your team,” Winston said. “He got some good looks and was able to knock them down — that’s what you do as a leader and as a star player for your team.”
In previous years, Cowan has had to take over the game and force his offense. But entering into his final season in College Park, Cowan acknowledged that he would need to rely on his teammates more this year.
The Bowie, Maryland, native has done that this season, but has also shown that he knows when to take over the game as he did tonight and many times this season.
“He was locked in early — helped us weather the storm early. But he’s just a winner,” Turgeon said. “All the time guys — different guys — step up for us. And tonight, it was Anthony.”
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