COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- On a snowy night at Xfinity Center, the No. 21 Maryland men's basketball team iced its two-game losing streak by defeating cold-shooting Northwestern, 70-52, temporarily righting the ship after losses to No. 6 Michigan State and Illinois.
In their lone home game in a stretch of six conference games, the Terps moved into fourth in the Big Ten with an 8-3 record (17-5 overall), matching their conference win total from a year ago with nine games remaining.
Here are five quick impressions from the game:
1. Foul trouble derailed a fast start by junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr.
Cowan started the game in as unconventional a way imaginable -- unless you're James Harden. On Maryland's opening play, with the shot clock winding down, Cowan nailed a three and was fouled on the play to give the Terps an early 4-2 lead. But after he poked the ball away and made a breakaway layup at the 17:25 mark, Cowan wouldn't score again for more than 17 minutes when he hit two free throws with five seconds left in the half.
In the waning seconds of the first half, on what appeared to be a routine foul on Northwestern, the officials reviewed the play and spent several minutes looking at it before calling Cowan for a flagrant-one foul, his third foul of the game.
Cowan sat for the first 6:17 of the second half before returning, but he didn't last long, picking up his fourth foul with 11:56 remaining. With the game well in hand, he wouldn't see the floor again, finishing with eight points, four assists and three rebounds.
2. Freshman guard Eric Ayala filled in admirably for Cowan after a rough game against Illinois.
In Cowan's stead, Ayala handled the ball for much of the second half. He bounced back from a five-turnover game against Illinois with eight points, four assists and just one turnover against the Wildcats.
Turgeon said he spoke to each player individually after the loss to Illinois and when he got to Ayala, he told him, "Don't forget who you are."
"Eric's shot the ball well since he's been here, but we recruited Eric because he's a great passer," Turgeon said.
Ayala's four assists were the most he's had five against Seton Hall Dec. 22. The freshman also shot 2-of-6 from 3-point range, and Turgeon encouraged him to keep shooting.
"We love the threes, keep shooting them -- he made some big ones tonight -- but you're also a great facilitator," Turgeon said.
3. Centers Bruno Fernando and Dererk Pardon battled all game.
Fernando and Pardon, two of the most physically imposing big men in the Big Ten, battled on the block all game, each showing why they will earn Big Ten plaudits when the season ends.
Fernando showed off NBA-caliber footwork throughout the game. On one play, he caught a pass on the right block with his back to the basket, spun baseline before Pardon could even get set and finished a pretty reverse layup. Later, he caught the ball at the top of the key, dribbled to his left, posted Pardon up and knocked down a fadeaway jumper.
"It feels good that the coaching staff trusts me so much to get the ball inside," Fernando said. "My teammates trust me a lot and they know where they are supposed to be when I get the ball."
Fernando finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-16 shooting. He said he watched extra film on Pardon, who posted 14 points and seven rebounds but was held to 5-of-14 shooting, far below his career average of 62 percent.
"He's a great player. We did a lot of [scouting] on him," Fernando said. "I watched extra film by myself just to make sure I see the moves he likes to do. I think I did a phenomenal job on him and it helped us get a win."
When Fernando wasn't tired, he was "terrific," Turgeon said, adding that he subbed out the Angolan big man more than usual to keep him fresh.
"Short stints -- one minute out, a minute-and-a-half, whatever it was -- and I thought he stayed fresh," Turgeon said. "They weren't going to double him because we've been good against the double, and he just made good plays."
4. Freshman forward Jalen Smith had one of his best games of the season.
Smith missed his first three attempts and was clearly frustrated in the opening minutes of the game. But after he received words of encouragement from his teammates, Smith went on to hit five of his next seven shots and finished with 14 points.
Smith said his teammates told him, "You're going to make the next one, don't worry about that play, worry about the next play."
The big man nearly tallied a double-double, finishing with nine rebounds.
Smith has been inconsistent of late. In a four-game stretch prior to the Illinois game Jan. 26, he shot 8-of-28 from the field (28.5 percent), and he missed all nine of his attempts against Indiana Jan. 11. Against Northwestern he looked far more comfortable, finishing several tough shots in the paint and at one point catching a pretty pass from Fernando for a dunk before hitting his once-per-game 3-pointer.
"He's really been working," Turgeon said, adding that Smith has gotten extra weight room sessions since the Michigan State game. "We've been beating on him with pads in practice. It's coming. It takes time, but it's coming."
The deeper Maryland gets into the season, the more they will need strong play from Smith. Turgeon said simply, "We need him."
5. Maryland limited its turnovers in the second half and benefited from a horrendous shooting night by Northwestern.
Less than four minutes into the second half, both teams were playing less than perfect. Northwestern had missed four consecutive 3-pointers and Maryland, with Cowan on the bench in foul trouble, committed two sloppy turnovers. With the Terps leading 37-26, it appeared they might fall into the same trap that doomed them against Illinois -- constantly turning the ball over and squandering a lead to a team below them in the Big Ten standings.
But after those two early turnovers, the Terps had just two more the rest of the game, one of which was by sophomore reserve forward Joshua Tomaic well after the game was in hand.
The Terps were aided by a terrible shooting night by Northwestern, which went through two separate four-minute spells without a point. The Wildcats finished 18-for-58 (31 percent) from the field and 5-of-23 from 3-point range (21.7 percent). They missed their first seven 3-pointers of the second half and but if not for three straight threes in garbage time, that field goal percentage could have dipped closer to 25 percent.
Turgeon called his team's defensive performance the best they've put together all season, listing off nearly every player who played major minutes as being part of the effort.
"We were running guys off lines, we knew who their shooters were," he said, adding he was pleased with how his team responded despite missing its leading scorer and best on-ball defender for most of the second half.
"Anthony's a really good defender for us so to continue to guard the way we were able to guard with Anthony was terrific," Turgeon said. "He was a good teammate in the second half."
"We're getting there," he added. "We're really proud of our defense."
The Terps were still outscored in transition -- Northwestern finished with a 15-6 advantage on the break -- but Turgeon said he was pleased with their effort.
Northwestern head coach Chris Collins gave the Terps credit.
"They did a good job on Pardon, took away his easy baskets, made him shoot under 50 percent -- which is a big weapon for us," Collins said. "It's not like we just missed every open shot, but I also felt like we didn't shoot well, too. I thought [Maryland was] dialed in."
The Terps have two days off before they visit No. 24 Wisconsin Feb. 1. They defeated the Badgers, 64-60, Jan. 14.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox