Feeding off the energy of its “sixth man,” Penn State put away Maryland men’s basketball

Guard Anthony Cowan prepares to shoot a free throw during Maryland basketball's 74-55 win over Fairfield on Nov. 19, 2019 (Gabby Baniqued/The Diamondback)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Maryland men’s basketball guard Anthony Cowan’s deep 3-pointer had just rattled in to cut the Terps’ deficit down to two points. On the ensuing defensive possession, Maryland made a stop and seemingly had the rebound secured.

But after forward Makhi Mitchell grabbed an off-balance board, he lost the ball while trying to avoid a traveling violation. Penn State guard Izaiah Brockington snagged the loose ball in mid-air and dished a pass to forward Mike Watkins for a dunk.

As Maryland fumbled away its chance to score or take the lead, Watkins’ dunk triggered an 8-0 Nittany Lions run. That stretch helped Penn State stave off the Terps and renew the Bryce Jordan Center crowd’s energy during its 76-69 win over the No. 4 team in the country.

“The crowd was definitely our sixth man tonight. They did a great job just keeping us energized when they went on runs, you know, then we’d get us going,” Nittany Lions senior forward Lamar Stevens said. “Definitely one of the best environments that I’ve played in here.”

[Read more: Feeding off the energy of its “sixth man,” Penn State put away Maryland men’s basketball]

One day ahead of Tuesday’s game, Maryland guard Anthony Cowan downplayed the energy the Bryce Jordan Center crowd could create.

Cowan, who entered this season’s matchup winless in three attempts in State College, emphasized the impetus was on his team to create the energy early.

“We gotta bring our own energy,” Cowan said Monday. “At Penn State, probably not going to be that many people there. Probably not going to be as loud.”

By the end of his fourth unsuccessful road game against the Nittany Lions, Cowan was forced to walk to his own bench as the clock’s final seconds wound down to avoid the mass of students spilling onto the floor.

[Read more: Without Bruno Fernando, Maryland basketball is still searching for post-up answers]

It wasn’t the first time Cowan has been a part of a ranked team losing at the Bryce Jordan Center. In 2017, the then-No. 21 Terps lost to unranked Penn State, and the Nittany Lions pulled off another upset over then-No. 17 Maryland last season.

Tuesday night, however, was the first time Penn State students spilled onto the court against Maryland in that span — and the first time any Terps player on the roster had experienced that kind of jubilation at their expense.

“Yeah, that was my first time. It’s not something I want to feel again,” guard Eric Ayala said. “I’m looking forward to stopping that today.”

Aside from Brockington’s theft of Mitchell, there was one other occasion in the second half where Penn State flipped the momentum when the Terps climbed back to within a possession.
Maryland briefly tempered the crowd’s excitement with a 5-0 spurt that cut Penn State’s lead to 58-55 with just over five minutes to play, but Brockington once again had the answer — this time, it was a 3-pointer to bring the fans back to full throttle.

“Those were momentum shifts. I think they got two where they took it right out of us, and those are big time. They got a dunk that got the crowd going,” Ayala said. “And that’s just us being more tough — we’ve got to be … stronger with the ball.”

The energy ignited by Brockington’s two momentum-shifting plays only served as the precursor for the court storming that ensued immediately upon the final buzzer.

Instead of Cowan and the Terps generating their own energy, it was the Nittany Lions building an early lead to bring their fans to life — and eventually give them a reason to rush the court in celebration.

“What a home-court advantage we had tonight,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “That’s fantastic. I really appreciate the students.”

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