ORLANDO — Following in a familiar and troubling trend that has festered through the early portion of the season, Maryland men’s basketball once again encountered a sluggish start.
Harvard raced out to a 9-0 lead, and the No. 5 Terps were staring down a zero on the scoreboard as the first media timeout arrived. The initial ineptitude wasn’t unfamiliar, but the five turnovers at the under-16 timeout were cause for concern.
But as has been the case in Maryland’s undefeated start to the season, coach Mark Turgeon’s team found a way.
For the second consecutive game, the Terps leaned on a dominant second half from guard Anthony Cowan to rally back. Cowan scored 17 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes to down the Crimson, 80-73, on Friday and advance his team to Sunday’s Orlando Invitational final.
“Today, we didn’t really have nothing [at the start]. … Wasn’t sure if we were going to change it, to be honest,” Turgeon said. “About the five-minute mark, we kinda flipped it [and] started sharing the ball. And they were fun to coach and fun to watch the last 25 minutes.”
The Terps (7-0) turned it over on their first two possessions and gave the ball away five times in the first four minutes. Turgeon said the early turnovers were a byproduct of selfish play on the offensive end.
After what Turgeon called a “heated” timeout — where the ninth-year coach implored his team to share the ball — guard Aaron Wiggins curled off a screen, caught a pass and hit a floater in the lane to finally break through and end Harvard’s 9-0 run to start the game.
Maryland trailed by 10 with four minutes to play before half before finding its rhythm with a 12-2 run to level the score at 31 following a pair of free throws from Wiggins with 38 seconds remaining. Four quick points from Harvard pushed its halftime edge to 35-31.
“I was proud of our guys for their effort,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought we played a tremendous probably 15 minutes in the first half.”
The last five minutes of the first half helped the Terps fortunately find themselves down only four after the stagnant start. And after the break, the Terps briefly took their first lead of the game before the Crimson (5-3) battled back and opened a seven-point edge.
Then, with 11-and-a-half minutes remaining, Cowan drove to the baseline and faded away for a difficult jump shot that jumpstarted the senior guard. In a 12-2 run, the Bowie native hit the fadeaway jumper, two threes, a pair of free throws and nabbed a steal that led to a fastbreak dunk for forward Jalen Smith.
“That was the game,” Turgeon said. “[Cowan] bailed us out, made incredible threes. And when the game was on the line, our half-court execution was really good again — just wish we would do it sooner.”
The do-it-all run for Cowan propelled Maryland into a 56-53 lead with 9:30 to play.
Harvard guard Bryce Aiken had the immediate response, draining a shot from deep for three of his 30 points on the afternoon — marking the second consecutive day a dynamic guard carved up the Terps’ defense after Temple’s Alani Moore poured in 22 on Thursday.
But as was the case in the first round of the Orlando Invitational, once Cowan got going in the second half, the supporting cast followed suit. During a 10-3 run to open up a 68-61 lead, guard Eric Ayala hit a three, Smith threw down a dunk and Wiggins scored five.
“[Cowan] likes to lead by example,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “He’s ‘Let’s go. I’m here now, so everybody just follow suit.’ He’s been in a whole bunch of battles, and we respect him as our leader.”
Cowan knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:47 to play to extend the Terps’ lead to 10. From there, Maryland navigated through rocky trips to the free-throw line and survived an upset bid led by another potent guard.
Turgeon said the reason behind the slow starts remains a question. Seven games into the schedule, though, his team has found the in-game answers to remain undefeated.
“We’re resilient. We’re going to figure it out at the end of the day,” Cowan said. “Obviously we haven’t played our best basketball, but we’ve been figuring it out the last couple games.”