Journey to the tourney: The ten best moments from Maryland’s season so far

The NCAA tournament is approaching quickly and Maryland is gearing up for a potential postseason run. As we all know, the college basketball season is a marathon and can take you on a roller coaster of a journey as a fan. Maryland fans in particular know this all too well as the Terps often seem allergic to consistency but for all the disappointments this season, there were even more moments to celebrate or appreciate as a fan.

Ahead of their appearance in the 2019 tournament, I thought it would be a good idea to highlight some of the best moments from their season. Here are ten that have defined the 2018-19 team so far but hopefully we have many more still to come.

  1. A loss to an old rival instills more hope than doubt

Maryland was a difficult team to pin down coming into the season for many reasons. Not many were convinced that the Terps were a top 25 team but at the same time it was hard to dismiss them, even in a crowded Big Ten, due to the immense amount of potential they had. In order to make it back to the top 25, the Terps would have to prove themselves and earn their rank. Six straight wins to open the season did just that and Maryland found themselves at No. 24 at the end of November just in time for their meeting with No. 4 Virginia in the ACC / Big Ten challenge.

Maryland was down by 17 at one point in the second half but managed to storm back and make things uncomfortable for Virginia down the stretch. They would ultimately fall five points short of the Cavaliers but the 71 points they scored was stunning to everyone watching. Virginia is considered one of the best defensive teams in the country and has only given up 70 points or more three times this season. Duke is the only other team to score this much against Virginia in the 2018-19 season.

2. Cowan’s clutch three leads Terps to first Big Ten win

Following their loss to Virginia there was no time to rest as Penn State rolled into College Park just three days later for the first conference game of the season. Penn State turned in another bellow average year in 2018-19 but that has never stopped them from giving the Terps trouble. Maryland picked up a lead with under ten minutes to play but struggled to pull away.

With under a minute to go, Maryland was holding on to a slim 61-59 lead and desperately needed a basket. In typical Maryland fashion nothing opened up on the possession and the ball was put in the hands of Anthony Cowan with the shot clock winding down. Cowan would end up taking a deep three from the “G” in Gary Williams’ signature on the court and drilling the shot to give Maryland a five-point lead. This was just one of many late-game three-pointers by Cowan but nothing can compare to this one given the distance he pulled up from and implications of the shot.

3. Stix stuns Nebraska

With conference games about to get into full swing, the Terps still found themselves without a signature win. They had lost their spot in the top 25 after losses to Virginia and Purdue and once again needed to prove themselves.

A surprisingly hot Nebraska team provided an opportunity to get back on the map. While it was not an easy victory, the Terps pulled it out late and defeated the Cornhuskers for their first of four wins over ranked competition in 2018-19.

Freshman Jalen Smith was the hero this time. His gutsy decision to put up a floater with the clock winding down, rather than driving for contact, paid off and the Terps went on to win 74-72.

4. Fernando dominates Indiana with a career performance

After the win over Nebraska, Maryland started to really hit their stride. A pair of road wins over Rutgers and Minnesota pushed the win streak to four but the Terps still found themselves outside looking in on the top 25.

Bruno Fernando helped change that by turning in arguably the best performance of his two years at Maryland. The sophomore scored a career-high 25 points on 11-12 shooting and added 13 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. Maryland used Fernando’s big game to come back from an early deficit and score 51 second half points en-route to a 78-75 win.

Fernando accumulated 20 double-doubles over the span of the regular season after picking up just three as a freshman. The future NBA lottery pick averaged 13.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per-game to lead the Terps all year, but this performance against No. 22 Indiana stands out as one of his best moments in College Park.

5. Withstanding Wisconsin’s comeback

With how long the college basketball season lasts, sometimes you just have to survive and get the win so you can move on. For a team like Maryland, playing in the heavily-contested Big Ten, this is usually the case a few times during the year. Whether you’re playing a final four contender like Michigan or a bottom of the barrel team like Northwestern, you can be beat by anyone on any given night.

Wisconsin was far from an underdog in this matchup but they certainly looked like one at the half when the Terps took a 33-15 lead. Wisconsin was ice cold and had missed all ten of their three-point attempts but the second half was a different story. The Badgers took 20 more three-point attempts down the stretch and nailed 11 of them to storm back and take a 60-59 lead with two minutes to play.

With Fernando in foul trouble, things looked bleak for Maryland. Their early lead had been completely erased, their offense had only mustered four baskets through 19 minutes of play in the second half, and they were on the verge of an embarrassing collapse at home. That was until Cowan broke through the scoring drought with a three-pointer from the top of the key to put Maryland back up by two.

The big-time shot was very reminiscent of Melo Trimble’s game-winner at Wisconsin in 2016. No offensive play, no pick and roll or movement, just a veteran player putting the team on his back. However, the basket by Cowan did not put the game away. The Terps still had to get the job done defensively on the other end of the court and let’s just say they got a little lucky as Nate Reuvers missed a wide open three-point attempt and the Terps rebounded to put the game on ice.

Reuvers had led the charge for Wisconsin in the second half by drilling four three-pointers, often with a hand in his face. But when he was presented with a wide open look, he missed. That’s college basketball. Sometimes it doesn’t make much sense but we love it anyway.

6. Terps reach new heights at Ohio State.

You probably don’t remember the Terrapins 75-61 win at Ohio State back in January. There was no buzzer-beater or super memorable moment but the win itself meant a lot for the young Terps.

Five Maryland players finished the game with double digit scoring totals and the team as a whole was red hot from start to finish. The Terps made 58% of their shots and 11 of their 17 three-point attempts to zip past the Buckeyes for their seventh straight win. This marks Maryland’s longest win streak of the season which won’t change even if they make it all the way to the national championship. It also made them look very favorable in the eyes of AP voters. The following Monday Maryland was sitting at No. 13 in the polls, their highest ranking of the season.

7. The flop seen around the world

Maryland traveled to Nebraska in early February for their second meeting with the Cornhuskers. After being ranked earlier in the season, Nebraska fell off a cliff and lost five straight prior to this rematch with the Terps. A bounce-back victory over the visiting Terrapins could have done a lot for their season but instead they rolled over and let themselves get embarrassed infront of their home crowd.

Maryland held Nebraska to a season-low 45 points with one of their best defensive efforts of the year but the defining moment was Bruno Fernando’s dunk and step over that took place in the second half.

With 13 minutes left to play Maryland was up by eight. Fernando received a pass from Aaron Wiggins and started to back his way toward the rim while being guarded by Tanner Borchardt. As Fernando kept pushing, Borchardt took the opportunity to flop and hopefully draw an offensive foul. No whistle was blown and Borchardt could only watch as Fernando proceeded to throw down a viscous dunk right over him. To add insult to injury, Fernando gave us his best Allen Iverson impression by stepping over Borchardt in dramatic fashion to rile up the opposing crowd.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles took his anger out on the refs over the no call and ended up getting a technical. A moment like that can emotionally fuel a team and possibly push them to make a comeback. Instead Miles appeared to lose his team as the Cornhuskers seemingly gave up and proceeded to go down by 20 later in the half.

8. Maryland ends No. 12 Purdue’s eight game win streak

A lot had changed since the first meeting between these two teams when Purdue escaped with a 62-60 win. Neither team made a basket in the final four minutes of that matchup so all the scoring had to come at the free throw line. The disappointing loss for Maryland stung at the time but got even worse as the season progressed and Purdue became one of the most feared teams in the Big Ten.

The Boilermakers started their season 6-5 and endured some bad losses to Texas and Notre Dame but came back by winning 11 of their next 12. They rolled into the rematch against Maryland as the hottest team in the conference and the No. 12 ranked team in the nation. Preventing a sweep would not be easy but the Terps rose to the challenge in front of their home crowd.

At the half Purdue looked to be just as unbeatable as everyone thought. The insane three-point shooting of Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline stifled any run the Terps went on and the Boilermakers big men kept Fernando in check with a consistent double team.

Something must have happened to the Boilermakers at halftime because the team that took the court in the second half looked like the junior varsity squad at your local high school. Cowan helped the Terps immediately punch back and from there the Terrapins bullied Purdue until the final seconds ran off the clock.

There are too many highlights to mention but the defining moment of the game came around the 12-minute mark of the second half when freshman sharp-shooter Eric Ayala crossed up Edwards and then drilled a three-pointer to bring the Terps within three. On the next Maryland possession Ayala knocked Edwards off his feet again on an inbound pass and hit a game-tying three1pointer from the corner.

The double teams on Fernando continued but the Terps started to use this to their advantage by turning it into some wide open looks for Smith. Maryland had cracked the code and Purdue’s shooting was ice cold, preventing them from keeping pace. The Boilermakers shooting would eventually dip below 30% while the Terps rose to 50% by the end of the game.

9. Terps win first road game against ranked opponent since 2008

After defeating Purdue it would have been easy for Maryland to come back down to earth and lose their next two matchups against Michigan and Iowa. With both games taking place away from College Park, that was starting to look like a very real possibility. At the time the Terps were gaining some unwanted national attention for a road losing streak spanning over a decade. 

Dating all the way back to January of 2008, the Terps had failed to defeat a ranked opponent on the road and it was starting to become an indictment on Mark Turgeon as a coach. Even the talented teams in 2010, 2015, and 2016 never beat a ranked opponent on the road but that didn’t stop people from trashing the Terps.

A road game at Iowa provided one final opportunity for Maryland to break the streak in 2019 and it came down to the final buzzer. Iowa had won it’s two previous games on last-second shots and almost did it again against Maryland but came up short in their final attempts. The Terps escaped with their second signature win in the span of a week.

Maryland found themselves down by one with 15 seconds to play and put the ball in the hands of their veteran point guard to make a play. Cowan received the inbound pass and didn’t waste much time before driving to the rim. His shot attempt was met with a good amount of contact, resulting in a miss but no whistle was blown. The play went on and Bruno Fernando proceeded to make one of the biggest shots of Maryland’s season by going up and tipping the ball back into the basket with all five Iowa players surrounding him.

The put back gave the Terps a one-point lead of their own but left plenty of time on the clock for Iowa to pull off another magical finish. Jordan Bohannon raced down the court and set himself up behind the arc for the game-winning three-pointer.

Instead of going straight up, Bohannon leaned into Cowan in an attempt to draw a foul. Unlike what happened to Cowan on the previous possession, there was barely any contact made and Bohannon ended up taking an unnecessarily awkward shot that missed.

After the game Bohannon felt the need to complain about the refs for not calling anything on the final shot. I guess barely defeating inferior teams like Northwestern and Rutgers with buzzer beaters must have not been enough luck in his mind and Iowa was deserving of a bail out from the refs. Maybe if he didn’t go 2-11 from the field that night he could have helped his team secure a win well before the final seven seconds of the game.

10. A memorable senior night

Maryland had secured their spot in the NCAA tournament well before their final regular season finale against Minnesota but the game offered them an opportunity to bounce back from a rough week where they lost to Penn State and Michigan. At the very least, the visiting Gophers made for a good tune-up game before march madness arrived.

The Terrapins took care of business from start to finish and gave themselves a much-needed confidence booster. Maryland saw a return to form as a whole while also getting some big performances out of their best players. Cowan led the way with 21 points but more importantly protected the ball with just two turnovers.

Fernando and Smith were unstoppable under the rim, taking advantage of the size difference they had over Minnesota. The two big men combined for 22 of the team’s 39 rebounds and both ended up turning in double doubles.

The most impressive stat of the night was the turnover differential, which Maryland won for the first time in conference play. The last time the Terps had less turnovers than their opponent was in December when they defeated the Loyal (MD) Greyhounds.

On top of the all around great performance, the Terps got to honor two of their own for senior night. Ivan Bender and Andrew Terrell both saw game action but neither one scored. That didn’t spoil the mood as Bender got engaged prior to the game and Terrell received a standing ovation from the home crowd that included plenty of his signature towel waiving.

Image credit: Charlie Neibergall, Patrick Semansky, Jay LaPrete, Julio Cortez / Associated Press

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