Maryland squeezes past Penn State 66-59 in Big Ten opener

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              Maryland guards Anthony Cowan Jr. (1) and Darryl Morsell celebrate in the final moments of an NCAA college basketball game against Penn State, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in College Park, Md. Maryland won 66-59. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — After Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando carried Maryland to the brink of victory, Anthony Cowan Jr. emphatically finished off Penn State.

Cowan made two clutch 3-pointers in the closing minutes, and the 24th-ranked Terrapins opened Big Ten play with a 66-59 victory Saturday.

Smith scored 16 points, and Fernando had 12 points and 13 rebounds. But Cowan, who struggled for much of the game, came up big when Maryland needed it most.

The junior guard buried a 3 with 2:14 left to make it 61-55. After the Nittany Lions got within two points, Cowan hoisted a 27-footer as the shot clock expired, and it swished through the net to clinch it with 34 seconds to go.

“Cowan made the plays at the end. That’s what a great player does,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.

Prior to those two shots, Cowan had six turnovers and was 4 for 10 from the field.

“He’s got a very short-term memory. He’s got amnesia,” Chambers said. “He had six turnovers, but that’s not going to affect the way he plays.”

No, it won’t. Not for the team leader on a squad filled with freshmen and sophomores.

“I wasn’t making the best decisions with the ball,” Cowan acknowledged. “But when it came down to it, I just wanted to make sure I made shots, give our team the best chance to win the game.”

Maryland (7-1, 1-0) held on to secure a bounce-back victory following a 76-71 loss to No. 4 Virginia earlier in the week.

Coming off a 63-62 upset of No. 13 Virginia Tech on Tuesday, the Nittany Lions (4-3) nearly knocked off another ranked team. They led 31-30 at halftime, erased an eight-point deficit in the second half and gave Maryland all it could handle on its own floor.

Lamar Stevens scored 19 on 9-for-24 shooting, Josh Reaves had all 17 of his points in the first half and Rasir Bolton finished with 15 for Penn State.

“Defensively, we did enough to win the game,” Chambers said. “But we need another scorer out there. We can’t just rely on Stevens for 20 Big Ten games. That’s unfair to the kid, it’s unfair to our team.”

Penn State simply couldn’t handle the Terrapins’ inside game. With Fernando and Smith leading the way, Maryland finished with a 40-28 rebounding advantage and outscored the Nittany Lions 18-4 at the foul line.

Fernando became the first Terp to notch three straight double-doubles since Jordan Williams in 2011.

Maryland went up 47-39 with 12:53 left when Fernando sent an alley-oop pass to Smith for a dunk. As he headed the other way down the court, Fernando raised his arms and waved his hands, asking the crowd of 15,481 to cheer the Terps on.

The enthusiasm waned when Penn State responded with a 9-0 run to move back in front.

Neither team could pull away, which was typical of this budding rivalry. Since Maryland joined the Big Ten, each of the seven games between the teams has been decided by seven points or less.

REMEMBERING 41

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon began his postgame interview session by remembering his encounter with former President George H.W. Bush, who died late Friday night.

Turgeon was a coach at Texas A&M when he met the 41st president.

“He just had a big influence on me,” Turgeon said. “One, he made me feel like I was a past president and he was the basketball coach at Texas A&M. But he was just a good role model in how much he loved his wife Barbara and his family, how much he loved our country. So today’s a sad day for me.”

WEIRD HALF

Penn State missed 12 of its first 13 shots while falling behind 12-3, then held the Terrapins scoreless for more than four minutes during a 10-0 run. The Nittany Lions took 12 more shots than Maryland in the first half, limited the Terps to 8-for-21 shooting and forced 10 turnovers.

Yet Penn State got points from only three players, was outrebounded 21-16 and missed both its free throws, which explains the 31-30 score at the break.

BIG PICTURE

Penn State: The Nittany Lions could make some noise in the Big Ten if they can get contributions from players other than Stevens and Reaves, the only starters with more than one year of experience.

Maryland: Consistency continues to elude the Terrapins, which isn’t entirely unexpected given the youth of the roster. Outside shooting and ball handling remain a work in progress, but the good news is that the Terps are 7-1 and ranked in spite of their shortcomings.

UP NEXT

Penn State: Hosts Indiana on Tuesday night, the lone regular-season meeting between the teams.

Maryland: Travels to Purdue on Thursday night, seeking to end a four-game losing streak against the Boilermakers.