Surging Minnesota visits No. 24 Maryland in finale
Minnesota had just picked up a big win over Big Ten-leading Purdue on Wednesday, but the Gophers already had Maryland and the big Friday clash in College Park, Md., on their mind.
"It was an important win," said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino of his team's 73-69 victory over No. 11 Purdue. "I think personally, that solidified us to go to the NCAA Tournament. Season's not over, obviously. We want to go to try and get a tough win versus Maryland."
Minnesota (19-11, 9-10) could further solidify its tourney chances with a win at Maryland on Friday. The No. 24 Terrapins (21-9, 12-7) had a brilliant season going until recently, as they've lost two in a row and three of five, including Tuesday's 69-62 setback at home to No. 9 Michigan. Maryland, one of the youngest teams in the country, suddenly needs a reset.
Minnesota students stormed the floor in Minneapolis after the Gophers took down Purdue. The last time that had happened was in 2016, when Minnesota upset then-No. 6 Maryland, and Gophers Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer were only callow freshmen. Beating Purdue marked Minnesota's first Quadrant 1 victory since Jan. 3 at Wisconsin. Another such win at Maryland could remove any remaining NCAA Tournament doubt.
"The nature of our sport, nothing is guaranteed," said Murphy, now a senior. "I mean, I hope so (as far as NCAA bid), and I would want to say so, but nothing is guaranteed in this life."
The Terrapins know that feeling. After cruising all season, they've lost back-to-back games for just the second time this year. Now Maryland is looking to salvage some momentum heading into next week's Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.
Coming off an upset loss at Penn State, the Terps couldn't overcome Michigan at home. That dropped Maryland to fifth in the league standings, behind Wisconsin for a coveted top-four finish and the double-bye that goes with it. A lot of pieces have to fall into place for Maryland to land that double-bye now.
"We're disappointed in the week, but we got better today," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon after losing to the Wolverines. "Our offense was better. We just didn't make shots. We had much better movement. We changed sides with the ball. We were much better than we've been.
"Our defense was pretty good until the end. That's a pretty good team (Michigan) that's pretty darned hard to guard. We're disappointed we didn't win."
It was Maryland's first Big Ten loss at home this season, and next up is a Minnesota team coming off the big upset, buoyed by Amir Coffey's 32 points. Coffey led the Gophers with 16 points when Minnesota met Maryland in early January. The Terrapins prevailed 82-67 on the road behind Anthony Cowan's career-high 27 points, and a season high 21 from freshman Jalen Smith.
Smith, who hadn't been in double-digit scoring in four straight games, broke out with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting against big, athletic Michigan, a good sign for the Terrapins' up-and-down offense.
"Jalen made some big time plays, offensive rebounds around the basket," said Turgeon. "I know he's feeling better, and that's a real positive moving forward."
The Terrapins are at their best when Smith and sophomore Bruno Fernando are dominating around the basket, as they did in the earlier meeting at Minnesota, with Fernando's 10 points and 11 rebounds keying a 39-28 advantage on the boards.
Minnesota counters with some size around the basket, too, in the 6-foot-8 Coffey, 6-10 freshman Daniel Oturu and 7-foot senior Matz Stockman, coming off one of his best games after posting nine points, six rebounds and seven blocks against Purdue.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 7, 2019