- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2019

COLLEGE PARK — A question lingers for the No. 24-ranked Maryland men’s basketball team. Can the Terrapins hang with the big boys when the NCAA Tournament arrives in five weeks?

They missed out on any postseason berth last season. They were upset in the first round the season before that. This season, as coach Mark Turgeon sometimes cites, they are the fifth-youngest team in Division I.

That’s why Tuesday night can be considered the most significant win of the Terrapins’ season.

Maryland charged back from an eight-point halftime deficit to upset No. 12 Purdue 70-56 at the Xfinity Center. The Terrapins didn’t lead until 10 minutes remained, but for those last 10 minutes, they proved the better team.

Jalen Smith led with 16 points, 14 coming after halftime, and Eric Ayala poured in 15 that included two clutch 3-pointers in the second half. Bruno Fernando added 12 points and 12 rebounds.

For one stretch in the second half, the freshman trio of Smith, Ayala and Aaron Wiggins were responsible for 21 straight Maryland points.

Given the task of handling Carsen Edwards, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, and Matt Haarms, a 7-foot-3 center with a cartoonish wingspan, Maryland contained both in the second half. Edwards, who averages 24.6 points a game, finished with 24 points but just seven in the second half.

Maryland (19-6, 10-4 Big Ten) outshot Purdue 50 percent to 28.2 percent. The Terrapins split the season series after the Boilermakers beat them 62-60 in December.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Turgeon said. “We beat a really good Purdue team that’s extremely well-coached and has really kind of owned us, to be honest with you, the last two years.”

Turgeon said he eschewed “Xs and Os” at halftime in favor of “changing our body language.”

“I think because we scored early in the second half it gave us confidence, and then our defense,” he said. “You can’t say enough about Darryl Morsell and Anthony Cowan, those two kids, all night just chasing them around.”

With the game tied at 10 early, Purdue embarked on a 13-4 run over a 4:34-long stretch in which Maryland only made one field goal. That gave the Boilermakers the advantage it held for much of the game.

The Terrapins went 5-for-15 from the 3-point arc in the first half. For every shot made by Anthony Cowan or Aaron Wiggins, the team would miss two more, often too early in the possession.

Maryland still executed some nice plays, including one that got Darryl Morsell running open in the paint for a feed-and-dunk. But the Boilermakers scored the last five points of the half to hit halftime leading 38-30.

The Terrapins trotted out a much sharper brand of basketball in the second half, which they started on a 10-2 run to tie the game at 40 apiece. They forced Purdue into a shot-clock violation and held them to 1-for-12 shooting to open the half.

As the teams traded baskets, Smith scored by driving the paint and pulling a spin move around Haarms. On Maryland’s next possession, Ayala’s footwork got Edwards to trip and fall at half court and he scored a 3-pointer on a give-and-go.

But it wasn’t until the 30th minute of the game that Maryland grabbed its first lead — on an alley-oop dunk, no less, from Cowan to Smith — 50-48. Ayala made consecutive jumpers to keep them ahead, and a poster dunk by Fernando put Maryland up seven and officially announced that control of the game had changed hands.

“That’s a win that we can look back and kind of realize that we’re able to stay in a game with anybody in our conference,” Fernando said.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said what’s “amazed” him about the Terrapins has been their ability on defense despite being such a young team. The Boilermakers were held to 18 points and 16.7 percent shooting in the second half.

The path ahead doesn’t get easier for the Terrapins, though. Their next game is Saturday at No. 6 Michigan.

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