So often last season, Maryland men’s basketball guard Anthony Cowan found the ball in his hands as the shot clock wound down, leaving him little choice but to take — and often drain — a deep 3-pointer.
This year, however, Cowan’s shot had seemed off. The junior entered Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Penn State with a 27.8 shooting percentage from deep, and he missed his first four triples against the Nittany Lions.
But then, with the game still very much in jeopardy late, Cowan showed some of that sophomore form. He connected on a triple to put the Terps up six with about two minutes left, and after the Nittany Lions came within two, he hit a dagger from well beyond the three-point line with the shot clock nearing zero and the game clock under a minute.
After forwards Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando brought the Terps to the finish line, Cowan pushed them over it for a 66-59 win in an uneven game that featured four ties and 10 lead changes, but none in the final nine minutes, thanks largely to Cowan.
“Honestly, Anthony just did what Anthony does,” Fernando said. “That’s really what it is.”
Cowan finished with 15 points, but it was far from his best performance, especially early. At halftime, coach Mark Turgeon’s squad was trailing by one, and Cowan was sitting on four points on five shots, one assist and three turnovers.
“I just told [my teammates] I got them,” Cowan said. “I know I really didn’t have a good first half but I just knew I had to pick it up in order for us to win. And that’s kind of what I did.”
Two minutes into the second half, Cowan corralled a steal around midcourt and converted an easy transition layup to cap a 9-2 run, putting the Terps up 39-33.
The Nittany Lions hung around over the next several minutes before going on a quick 9-0 run to regain control. With just under 10 minutes to play, Penn State guard Rasir Bolton blew past Cowan for a layup that put the Nittany Lions up, 50-49, but Cowan had an answer.
The 6-foot junior drove to the rim and finished through contact, giving a slight smirk as the ball fell through the hoop. Once he converted the and-one, Maryland had a 52-50 lead and would never trail again.
“He’s got a very short-term memory. He’s got amnesia,” Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers said. “He had six turnovers, but that’s not going to affect him. … He’s still going to be on the attack.”
Cowan’s late heroics were made possible by consistent play from Smith and Fernando inside. Smith scored a game-high 16 points and added eight rebounds, while Fernando secured his third consecutive double-double with 12 points and 13 boards.
But Smith’s biggest contribution may have been on the defensive end, where he held Penn State forward Lamar Stevens to 19 points on 24 shots.
“[Smith] just used his length and stayed down,” Turgeon said. “His first-step defense was really good today.”
In the first half, though, Nittany Lions guard Josh Reaves made up for Stevens’ mediocre night. Reaves scored his team’s first nine points en route to 17 in the first half, helping Penn State erase Maryland’s early 12-3 lead and go up by as much as eight.
Over the final few minutes before halftime, the Terps continued to get to the foul line and make their shots. Penn State committed 16 fouls in the first half, and Maryland went 13-for-17 on foul shots to pull within one point at intermission.
Reaves didn’t score in the second half, and after Cowan and the Terps roared out of halftime, they never trailed by more than one.
Then, down the stretch, with the Nittany Lions threatening to spoil Maryland’s Big Ten opener, Cowan hit a pair of vintage Cowan shots to put the game to rest, ensuring the Terps bounced back from their 76-71 loss to No. 4 Virginia and avoided a disappointing home loss to Penn State.
“He’s a winner,” Chambers said, “and what winners do is, they rise to the occasion in the last four minutes of the game.”