ROSEMONT, Ill. — There were still a few seconds left in Maryland’s 71-64 victory over Northwestern on Monday night, but that didn’t stop Terrapins Coach Mark Turgeon from strolling down his sideline and reaching out onto the court to high-five freshman guard Darryl Morsell. It had been 78 days since Maryland had earned its first and only true road win of the season, all the way back on Dec. 3 at Illinois.
The Terrapins played about two hours north of the site of that victory on Monday, in front of a small crowd at cavernous Allstate Arena near O’Hare Airport — the Wildcats have been playing there all season while their home arena undergoes renovations — but it hardly mattered that this felt like a neutral site game. It will go down as a road win for Maryland, which overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half to win its second straight. It’s the first time that Maryland — which had lost seven straight games on the road — has won consecutive games since early January.
“It’s two in a row for us. I think we’re playing better. It’s obviously good going into the end of our season,” said sophomore guard Kevin Huerter, who finished with 18 points and helped jump-start a crucial 16-2 run that was the difference in the second half.
Maryland (19-11, 8-9 Big Ten) arrived here less than 48 hours after it earned an expected win at home over Rutgers, which did nothing to improve its postseason résumé. Monday night’s game against the middling Wildcats — who stunningly blew a 27-point lead in a home loss to Michigan State on Saturday — also promised to do nothing for Maryland’s threadbare NCAA tournament hopes. This was simply a chance to preserve pride and gain any remaining traction before Saturday’s home finale against Michigan and next week’s Big Ten tournament in New York City.
“After the last game, I said, ‘The only chance you have to maybe get to 9-9 [in Big Ten play] is to win at Northwestern,” Turgeon recalled telling his players. “We’re playing a really good Michigan team on Saturday, but I think 9-9 gives you a chance to think positive thoughts.”
The positive thoughts came and went during the first half Monday. Maryland’s performance was a microcosm of its season — up and down, with moments of promise clashing with inconsistency in effort. The Terrapins struggled to guard the perimeter early and surrendered a 9-2 lead within the opening minutes. They responded with a 13-0 run, thanks to a resurgent offensive performance by senior center Michal Cekovsky, who had three monstrous dunks in the first half that established Maryland’s presence on the interior and helped alleviate attention thrown at freshman center Bruno Fernando.
But that burst gave way to sloppy offensive play — Maryland had four turnovers in the final five minutes of the first half — and Northwestern (15-14, 6-10) used a 10-0 run to take a 37-30 halftime lead. The Wildcats hit eight of their 15 three-pointers in the first half, while Maryland shot just 1 for 8 from deep in the first 20 minutes and continued to look lost on the offensive end early in the second half. Northwestern led by 11 with 19:06 left. A little more than a minute later, Fernando — who averaged 19.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and three assists in his previous two games — went to the bench after picking up his third foul.
But that ominous development didn’t seem to faze the Terrapins, who had been through this scenario a number of times throughout the season.
“We just kept talking about, in those timeouts going down, ‘All right, we’ve been here before. What are we going to do? Are we going to change things tonight?’ ” Turgeon said. “Guys were pretty determined tonight to change things.”
Turgeon made a series of adjustments at halftime, including on the defensive end. Maryland had double-teamed center Dererk Pardon (14 points) in the first half, which had led to open kick-outs on the perimeter. Maryland instead focused on containing Vic Law (nine points on eight shots) and Scottie Lindsey (15 points on 12 shots) — and Northwestern shot just 2 for 10 from deep in the final 20 minutes.
Huerter heated up and scored 11 of his points in the second half, including a dunk on an assist from Anthony Cowan Jr. that pulled Maryland within seven with 15:29 left. By the time Huerter hit a runner in the lane to cut Northwestern’s lead to 49-46 with 13:11 to go, Maryland had found an offensive rhythm. Cowan scored five straight points for the Terrapins, followed by five straight from Dion Wiley. Cowan and Wiley finished with 13 points apiece.
A 16-2 Maryland run was capped by Fernando muscling his way to a basket and Wiley nailing a three-pointer from the corner, giving Maryland a 65-56 lead with 3:56 to play. For the first time in months, Maryland looked comfortable playing with a late lead on the road. Afterward, Turgeon’s players spilled out of an unfamiliar locker room dreaming of the possibilities the rest of the season could bring.
“It’s real good for us because we’re going into the Big Ten tournament. I think we can sneak a couple wins in, maybe even win the whole thing, honestly, the way we’re playing,” Wiley said. “I think we’re playing at a really high level.”