Beltway Basketball Beat: Maryland’s second-half surprise

Maryland guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (1) shoots against Michigan State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in East Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

For 37 minutes on Saturday afternoon, the script went as it has for most of the Mark Turgeon era on a micro and macro level.

After coughing up a 15-point lead at Michigan State, the Terps trailed the Spartans 60-53 with 3:25 left. Second half slides have been the rule, as opposed to the exception over the last decade. Just once in Turgeon’s tenure has the team posted a better record in the second half of conference play than the first (the 2014-15 season saw the team start 6-3 in the Big Ten before finishing 8-1).

But instead of another February fade, the Terps turned the tables on the Spartans by holding them scoreless for the final 3:25. Jalen Smith made a three-pointer and helped hold Michigan State to one shot by notching three late rebounds while Anthony Cowan finished the deal with back to back to back threes (he’d add two free throws with seven seconds left for the icing on the cake) as Maryland emerged with a 67-60 victory.

All of a sudden, the team that couldn’t win on the road all season has won four straight away from home in the toughest conference. And all of a sudden, the Terrapins find themselves in a position to capture the team’s first regular season league title since 2002.

Wow of the Week: Georgetown beat No. 19 Butler 73-66 Saturday, despite being without its top two players, as Omer Yurtseven had yet to fully recover from a badly sprained ankle and Mac McClung has missed four straight games with a foot injury. Somehow, the Hoyas went into Hinkle Fieldhouse (where the rims are still 10 feet off the court) and hit 10 of 15 three-pointers while Terrell Allen (not even a starter until James Akinjo left the program) scored a career-high 22 points. At 15-10 and 5-7 in the Big East, Georgetown still has a window of opportunity — however slim — to make the NCAA Tournament.

Player Spotlight: Richmond’s resurgence this winter saw the Spiders avenge a January loss to VCU by routing the Rams 77-59. This winter, they’ve been sparked by high-scoring Blake Francis and anchored by big man Grant Golden while Jacob Gilyard pilots the offense. But every so often an unsung hero comes up big: Saturday it was Nick Sherod who scored 23 points while hitting 5-of-7 three-pointers. The junior has done a lot of the little things this winter to help the Spiders bounce back from consecutive 20-loss seasons, and at this time coach Chris Mooney’s team is making its way toward the NCAA Tournament bubble.

League Look: Despite Clemson’s recent success on the gridiron and Virginia’s men’s lacrosse title, the ACC is first and foremost a basketball conference. Former Duke player Gene Banks said during an era when a maximum of two schools per conference made the big dance that “if the ACC got six teams into the NCAAs, they’d all make the Final Four.” Six schools have made the field every year since the league expanded to 15 during the 2013-14 season, but this year they’ll be hard-pressed to get five. Back to back wins by Virginia (one in overtime, another on a last-second shot) have the Cavaliers on the right side of the bubble, but after that there’s a hot mess where fifth and 12th place are separated by a total of two games. Perhaps quality instead of quantity is this year’s mantra: The league’s soft center will help upper tier schools like Duke, Florida State, and Louisville likely land top three seeds next month.

Ballot Battles: Last week’s turnover has been rectified, as Pac-12 leader Colorado makes the Top 25. Maryland moves up three spots on my AP ballot from 10 to seven this week, while Seton Hall and West Virginia both slide down the teens. Butler (once as high as No. 5) drops out after falling to a depleted Georgetown at home. Small school shout-outs this week go to the usual suspects: Wright State, East Tennessee State, Stephen F. Austin and Rhode Island. Just missing the cut: Iowa and New Mexico State.

This Week’s Starting Five:

Wednesday — Georgetown vs. Providence. The Hoyas lost to the Friars by 16 on the road last month, and while they were hurt by the absence of Mac McClung (eye injury) they were hurt just as much by Alpha Diallo’s 20 points and 8 rebounds. PC has beaten three ranked teams this month, but has lost road games at Xavier and St. John’s.

Also Wednesday — George Mason at Richmond. The Patriots are smarting after getting swept by George Washington, but let the record show they went into the Siegel Center last week and beat VCU. The Spiders shot 67% in a January win at Fairfax, while Mason’s Javon Greene scored 39 points in defeat.

Thursday — William & Mary at Towson. Both schools are chasing first-place Hofstra in the CAA, with the second place Tribe one-half game ahead of the Tigers, who took the January meeting by 12 thanks to a career-high 21 points from freshman Jason Gibson. They also lead the conference in scoring defense and rebounding margin.

Sunday — American at Boston University. AU enters the week one game behind the Terriers for second place in the Patriot League, in a conference where the tournament is played on home courts tiebreakers are all the more important. The Eagles won the previous meeting by four in D.C. thanks to Sa’eed Nelson. The senior is the only active NCAA D-1 player to have recorded 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in his career.

Sunday — Maryland at Ohio State. The Terps took the January meeting after falling behind 8-0 and going scoreless into the game’s first media timeout. The sibling tandem of Kaleb & Andre Wesson combined for 29 points and 14 rebounds that night, but their teammates shot a collective 10-for-43 (23%). The Buckeyes boast the Big Ten’s best scoring defense and are tops at defending the three. Should the Terps find themselves down seven with 3 minutes left on this time, they might not find a comeback as easy in Columbus as it was in East Lansing.

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