Maryland men’s basketball guard Anthony Cowan took an unfamiliar position late in Sunday’s 79-72 loss to Ohio State. Instead of commanding the ball during late-game situations — as he usually does — he was on the bench.
Cowan tried to hide his frustration, using a towel to shield his face as coach Mark Turgeon leaned over to speak briefly with his senior point guard. He had just fouled out of the contest, with 3:54 to play.
But minutes earlier, Cowan’s frustration was apparent and almost impossible to miss. It took a video review, but the officials handed down a technical foul after Cowan kicked his foot in frustration and nearly — although inadvertently — struck Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson’s head.
The frustration seemed to mount for Cowan as the game wore on, and the Buckeyes defense took away his driving lanes and made scoring an arduous task. It came to a head when the officials didn’t blow their whistles when Wesson knocked him to the floor on a layup attempt.
“Today wasn’t his game. [He] couldn’t really get the outside shot going — couldn’t really get a shot, to be honest with you,” Turgeon said. “It was just one of those days for him.”
Ohio State’s defense prioritized limiting Cowan and taking away his ability to drive toward the rim. More often than not, that plan came to fruition, forcing the Terps’ leading scorer to settle for points at the free-throw line.
Guard Luther Muhammad drew the primary assignment on defending Cowan and repeatedly deterred the guard’s proclivity to drive the ball.
Stopping a guard with “such great burst,” as Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said of Cowan, isn’t a one-man job. Other defenders pitched into the collective effort.
“A lot of it’s on my help defense, to be honest,” Muhammad said. “I’m guarding one-on-one, but my help is always there.”
Muhammad and the Ohio State defense combined to hold Cowan to 10 points on 1-for-4 shooting, a shot total representative of just how few open looks there were for the Bowie native.
With just under four minutes to play, Cowan exploded toward the rim, looking for his first made field goal. To that point, the Big Ten’s fifth-highest scorer had only been able to muster eight points from the free-throw line.
Despite making his first field goal of the evening, Cowan wasn’t satisfied when he landed on the ground — mostly because his fall was a crash landing on the floor, after a mid-air collision with a 6-foot-9 forward, 270-pound forward.
“Anthony went in and shot a layup. Somehow, he ends up on the ground. I don’t think he ended up [there] by himself,” Turgeon said. “He was frustrated because he got tackled on a layup and there wasn’t a call.”
When he realized the official didn’t blow the whistle, Cowan’s frustration boiled over. He kicked out his leg. The officials stopped play to review the situation — a near miss between Cowan’s foot and Wesson’s head.
After the review, which coincided with the final media timeout, the officials explained to Turgeon that they had to call the technical foul because of the appearance of intent.
Turgeon explained after the game that Cowan wasn’t aiming for Wesson’s head, and it was a bout of frustration because of the officials’ reluctance to call that foul.
“Shouldn’t have done it, he did it,” Turgeon said. “But Anthony’s not kicking at him. … We can take all that out of the way that he was trying to kick the player, because he wasn’t.”
The officials made the determination just before the timeout expired. Instead of heading back on the floor for yet another closely contested game in his storied Maryland career, Cowan was forced to be a spectator for the final minutes.
After removing the towel from his face, Cowan clapped and shouted encouragement from the bench as he tried to lead from the sideline.
“His passion is coming out. He just wants to win, and whatever he’s got to do to help us win, he’s all in,” guard Eric Ayala said. “He’s our leader, you know, we follow him. I just see his passion out there — how passionate he is about winning.”
When Cowan was relegated to the bench for good, Maryland trailed 64-59. The Terps tallied 13 points after his departure, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback, as the Buckeyes kept responding on the other end.
Following the game, Holtmann was complimentary of the Terps’ guard and just how difficult he is to formulate a gameplan against, because of his combination of driving ability and shooting proficiency.
“The kid’s been such a great player for four years,” Holtmann said. “I can’t wait to see him leave.”
If Maryland and Ohio State don’t meet in the postseason, Holtmann’s last on-court memory of Cowan in a Terps jersey will be a kick that ended a frustrating evening in Columbus, Ohio.