Two teams in need of a win meet Wednesday night in Minneapolis.
No. 9 Maryland is looking to bounce back from its first loss in more than a month. Minnesota is trying to dig out of a hole and get back on track for an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Terrapins (22-5, 12-4 Big Ten) saw their nine-game winning streak end Sunday at Ohio State, but Maryland still is two games in front in the conference standings.
The Golden Gophers (13-13, 7-9) are coming off an 83-57 win at Northwestern on Sunday, an important victory that jumpstarted their sagging postseason hopes after they lost five of the previous six games. Minnesota may need five more wins to get to the NCAA Tournament, and a victory over ranked Maryland could further buoy the Gophers’ hopes.
The win at Northwestern was a first step heading into the Wednesday showdown at Williams Arena.
“You win by 26 points on the road in the Big Ten, that’s not easy to do,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “I thought start to finish, we played really well across the board.”
Sophomore center Daniel Oturu led the way with 22 points and 12 rebounds as the Gophers produced to their largest margin of victory in Big Ten play this season.
Maryland had problems defending from deep on Sunday, Ohio State’s upset partially fueled by 10-of-25 shooting from long range. Perhaps the biggest factor was the Buckeyes’ ability to limit the one-two punch of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, who were a combined 4 of 12 from the field.
Cowan finished with 10 points and seven assists but fouled out. Smith saw his string of nine consecutive double-double performances snapped, win. Foul trouble contributed to his eight-point, seven-rebound game.
Smith, who is 6-foot-10, will go up against Oturu in a marquee Big Ten matchup of big men. And Cowan, the backcourt star of a big win at Michigan State on Feb. 15, facing Marcus Carr will be a key showdown, too. While Cowan continues his all-out assault on the Maryland record books, Carr is closing in on the Minnesota mark for assists in a season, now with 174. The record of 179 was set by Ariel McDonald in 1993-94.
Maryland did have some bright spots in the loss to the Buckeyes. Aaron Wiggins came off the bench to notch a career-high 20 points and shore up depth concerns. Fellow guard Eric Ayala had 16 points, taking charge when Cowan fouled out.
The Terrapins had won four consecutive conference road games to take charge in the Big Ten standings before falling at Ohio State.
“We battled,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “We didn’t have a lot go our way, but we hung in there. We didn’t play our best game, but we competed. We’re leaving this building 12-4, (won) nine out of 10, lost one. Maybe we can get a winning streak started in our next one.”
Maryland returns home after the Wednesday contest, hosting Michigan State on Saturday with ESPN’s “College GameDay” in town for the first time since 2005. Minnesota takes to the road, playing at Wisconsin on Sunday and then at Indiana on March 4.
–Field Level Media