Tuesday night at Cole Field House, the Maryland basketball team relied on its length, a zone defense and solid passes from Anthony Cowan Jr., who naturally was the go-to facilitator. Only a turf field replaced the hardwood at the muggy but beloved gym where the Terps played basketball games for decades, and the opponent was the women’s club ultimate Frisbee team.
The club team had experience and technical knowledge of the game, but the basketball players had all the height and the dominant edge in athleticism. So after the basketball team climbed a few steps up the learning curve, it won by a few points in the loosely scored game — a far better result than last week’s dodgeball contest, the first of three Campus Challenge events pitting the basketball team against university club teams.
In the game of ultimate, as the sport is commonly called, celebratory dances followed what the basketball team inaccurately described as touchdowns. Sweat discolored some shirts, prompting one player to say he should have worn black. Confident declarations arose postgame: “That’s the second Campus Challenge I’ve been great at,” freshman forward Jalen Smith said.
It took a little time to master this sport, which is popular on college campuses. Early on, the basketball players misjudged the trajectories of the disc, sending their long bodies flailing upward as it swerved in a different direction. Even when they found the right spots, sometimes the disc would slip through their hands.
Then they started to find their roles. The 6-foot-10 Smith and 6-9 Joshua Tomaic would double-team the club player who had the disc. They communicated with basketball terminology. Cowan, who had previously played with a Frisbee only at the beach, started slinging long passes down the field.
“Ant's really good,” Aaron Wiggins said. “He's our quarterback. He's the best passer. … It was like, ‘If you catch it, wait for Ant. Toss a short pass to him and make him throw it deep.’”
Cowan became the clear MVP, with Reese Mona another standout, according to the basketball team and Christin Cohee, one of the women’s ultimate captains. Tomaic scored a couple times. Ricky Lindo Jr. practiced some on the sideline. Smith told Darryl Morsell he couldn’t throw.
By the end, Cowan could rattle off a scouting report on his teammates: He was the assist man. Serrel Smith Jr. played solid defense. Mona was great. Jalen Smith only performed well because he’s tall.
The players alternated describing their strategy with basketball lingo, then in football terms. When Cohee explained the game beforehand, a basketball staffer emphasized the familiar rule of no traveling. Maryland’s players used a zone defense but backward from what they’re used to, with the big guys up front deflecting passes and smaller players, such as Morsell, Serrel Smith and Eric Ayala, defending closer to the goal line. They called those players the safeties, borrowing the name of the football position. Wiggins said he talked about using a 4-3 coverage. He learned that on the Madden NFL video game. Multiple players called Cowan their quarterback.
“We just started scoring a lot, and they started losing confidence, I believe,” Jalen Smith said. “Once they lost their confidence, we had them.”
For the ultimate team, just playing the game was the highlight. Some know the basketball players by name and go to games. Cohee texted her parents beforehand, telling them she was about to play the basketball team. (Her mom responded, “So fun! But don’t hurt them.”)
“Some scores happened,” the club team tweeted during the game. “Who knows the score. This is a blast.”
The Campus Challenge, which will conclude with a match Tuesday against the women’s volleyball team, helps the basketball players feel more connected to the student body, Ayala said. That’s part of why the program invites club teams to compete. The players embraced the game as an enjoyable offseason activity, but competitiveness wins out.
After the team had played for about 45 minutes, a basketball staffer asked Cowan how much longer it wanted to play. The point guard said he also wanted to play against the men’s ultimate team that came to watch.
Some players reverted to their basketball selves. Wiggins said Morsell was kind of a glue guy on the field. Cowan facilitated and communicated instructions. At one point, he called over to the sideline asking for the score. And through nearly the entire game, Cowan never subbed out.
“I needed to make sure we won,” he said.