As guard Anthony Cowan walked toward the Maryland men’s basketball bench for instructions from coach Mark Turgeon late in Saturday’s game, Seton Hall guard Quincy McKnight followed him, even during the stoppage.
A moment earlier, McKnight blocked Cowan’s jumper. Throughout the contest, McKnight trailed nearly every one of Cowan’s moves, making life difficult for the Terps’ junior guard. Cowan has been Maryland’s go-to late-game contributor this season.
Even with a 3-pointer with less than a minute to go that slimmed the Pirates’ edge to one, Cowan struggled to find space with McKnight blanketed on him. Cowan finished shooting 5-for-13, still reaching 15 points but showing the same inefficiency that beleaguered the Terps’ shooting efforts all night.
With 1.8 seconds left, McKnight could afford to offer Cowan all the space in the world. His half-court heave sailed over the backboard and wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as Seton Hall had put the finishing touches on a 78-74 victory.
“He’s a big-time defender,” Turgeon said. “We’ve got to have more players play better. It was a lot on Anthony tonight.”
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said his team’s gameplan on Cowan was the same that Maryland used against his leading scorer, Myles Powell. Yet with 12 seconds remaining before the first media timeout, Powell forced Turgeon into a timeout. The 6-foot-2 junior had blown past Cowan on consecutive possessions to put the Pirates up 11-2, so Turgeon couldn’t wait any longer to talk things over.
Powell — who entered Saturday averaging 22.7 points per game and scored 27 against the Terps — finished through contact at the rim for his first lay-in. He hit two 3-pointers in the first half and converted an and-1 past Cowan and over Bruno Fernando.
While Powell was off the floor before halftime, though, Seton Hall (9-3) struggled. Its lead was whittled down as the Pirates missed five straight shots and a substitution for Maryland (9-3) sparked a 6-0 run. The Terps’ run wasn’t over, either.
With about three minutes remaining before intermission, Fernando hit two free throws to give Maryland its first lead of the game. Shortly after, Eric Ayala nailed a corner 3-pointer — the Terps had been 0-for-7 from beyond the arc before his trey — and Darryl Morsell, who missed last week’s contest against Loyola-Maryland with an ankle injury, completed an acrobatic layup with time winding down.
Fernando’s 13 first-half points — mostly late, when 7-foot-2 center Romaro Gill went to the bench with three fouls — helped the Terps climb back into the matchup and lead, 34-30, at the break.
“We didn’t play all that bad,” Turgeon said. “We had 11 days off, we started the game slow, we built a four-point lead.”
Powell, though, scored five points in an early 7-0 run after intermission. McKnight hit a trey to give the Pirates a 45-42 edge with 14 minutes to go.
“We started the second half giving them a layup,” Turgeon said, “and it never really got better after that.”
Before Cowan’s 3-pointer a minute into the second half, the junior had shot 1-for-5 with two points during the first 21 minutes of action. And after the Terps hit 52 percent of their three-point attempts against Loyola-Maryland — with Cowan hitting all four of his tries en route to 23 points — the team was cold for much of Saturday.
“Defensively, we start with [McKnight],” Willard said. “The job he did on Cowan — the job he’s done all year long on everyone he’s played — has been tremendous.”
Maryland shot 1-for-8 from deep in the first half, and finished 8-for-25. The Terps completed just 12-of-20 of their free throws — a line that proved costly in the close loss.
When Cowan hit his second 3-pointer with 9:37 left, he looked toward the Maryland bench and pounded his chest. For much of this season, even as Cowan struggles early, his late-game performances have carried the Terps to wins.
But McKnight nailed a triple on the next possession (and smacked his chest, too) to give his team a one-point edge and draw another timeout from Turgeon. The back-and-forth action continued, powered heavily by Powell and guard Myles Cale, who combined for 50 points on 14-for-24 from the field.
“Their guards, they came out and played very well tonight,” Ayala said. “27 and 23, that’s big-time.”
Seton Hall didn’t hit a field goal in the last 2:44, but Powell, McKnight and Cale hit free throws late that pushed the game out of reach, taking advantage of their opportunities in a way the Terps failed to.
During his postgame press conference, Turgeon stood behind the lectern with his eyes closed tightly, trying to recall one of the myriad of possessions that went awry and led to a four-point loss. But as he often points out, Maryland’s a young team, and it lost the way many young teams lose.
“Today would’ve been an amazing win,” Turgeon said. “It would’ve been, but we came up short.”