COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Justin Jackson said it was the spark his Terrapins needed, and he just happened to be part of it.
When he blocked Brian Starr’s shot with under 7-minutes to play, the game was tied. “Yeah, I thought it was going out of bounds and then Anthony (Cowan) made a great play,” said Jackson. “I was getting ready to play defense again.”
Instead, Cowan charged into the Towson bench, jumped and tossed the ball back to his own basket to Jackson, who triggered a rare fastbreak opportunity that Melo Trimble capped off with a three to put Maryland ahead. The Terrapins (4-0) would never trail again, prevailing 71-66 Nov. 20 at Xfinity.
“That was the spark we needed,” said Jackson, who finished with a season-high 21 points. “I knew after that we were going to win.”
Not everyone was so sure as the game Tigers battled Maryland tooth and nail in a game that had 14 ties and 11 lead changes. The Tigers attacked smaller, younger, less-experienced Maryland inside. Towson (2-1) had a 28-16 edge in points in the paint and roared to a 46-33 rebounding advantage, but the Terrapins came up with the biggest boards in the game’s final seconds to hang on.
Mike Morsell, Trimble’s AAU teammate, had a 3-pointer in the final 20 seconds to give Towson a lead, bounce long and out of bounds, diminutive Cowan again contesting to give the ball back to Maryland. Cowan would hit one of two free throws at 14.5 seconds to make it 69-66.
Morsell got off another three, this time to tie, and Kevin Huerter, as is becoming custom, had a late game defensive play to decide matters. He came down with the rebound and his two free throws at 5.3 seconds put the final points on the board and allowed Maryland to escape a game that the Tigers (2-1) had great designs on winning.
“We just had to be tougher,” said Jackson. “They wanted it more than we did and we didn’t play with a lot of energy early.”
It’s a tough stretch for Maryland – the third game in a stretch of four in seven days. There are a lot of things being thrown at this team and so far, these Terrapins are up to the test. “It’s just about staying poised and believing we’re going to win the game,” said Trimble of the Terrapins’ third tight triumph in four games. “It’s not even March yet and we’re having all these games that come down to the wire. It shows how poised we are, how mature we’re getting. We know that we’re going to get better.”
It would have been easy for the Terrapins, still without center Michal Cekovsky (sprained foot) and today without guard Dion Wiley (either stomach flu or food poisoning), to lose faith down the stretch. The Tigers, picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association, took it to Maryland all day. Besides that rebounding and points in the paint edge, the Towson bench outscored Maryland’s 12-2, held Maryland to two fastbreak points, and Morsell finished with 17 points, and athletic guard Deshaun Morman added 15. Arnaud William Adala Moto had 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Trimble countered with his season high of 27 points, but needed 16-of-17 shooting at the line to go with 4-of-15 field goals and 3-of-10 threes. “I’ve been through it before,” said Trimble. “Confidence is the key. When shots aren’t falling you’re supposed to get to the line, and I think I shot the most free throws I ever shot today.”
Actually Trimble was one short of that mark, but his 16 makes were the most, and part of a huge 26-of-32 team effort at the line for Maryland, which drilled extra on free throws yesterday at practice. It’s becoming evident that though teams can attack Maryland inside with size, then they leave themselves vulnerable to the Terrapins’ quickness. Cowan, on his way to 12 points, was 5-of-7 at the stripe.
Yet, Maryland found itself down by 13 to their rivals from less than 50 miles away. The two programs hadn’t met on the hardwood since 1996, and Maryland had won the previous 12 meetings. These Tigers had other ideas.
“We came in here, to be perfectly honest, expecting to win the ball game,” said Towson coach Pat Skerry of his tough team, which went 11-deep and played relentlessly.
“We beat a good team today,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. “They have a lot of high major players and probably look the part more than we did.”
Turgeon also said his team looked like junior varsity playing the varsity at times.
But the Terrapins clawed back, finally finding some offense midway through the second half as Jackson came alive to help Trimble. Maryland had a key 12-1 run spurred by a Trimble three, and then a steady diet of free throws. First Damonte Dodd, after an offensive rebound, hit two, then Trimble. Jaylen Brantley scored on a dazzling reverse layup and then Jackson buried a three on a kick-out from Ivan Bender and the crowd of 16,797 roared with approval as Skerry called timeout.
The Terrapins had closed to 50-48 on that Jackson 3-pointer at 11:25.
John Davis scored inside out of the timeout for Towson, and two Morsell free throws pushed the lead back to 54-48 at 9:42.
Jackson hit a three to start another rally, and when Cowan, who had a couple of key turnovers early in the second half, hit a three at 8:44, the score was tied at 56-56. Morsell put Towson back ahead. Jackson scored on a drive and pull-up and then made his spectacular block at the other end that Cowan saved back to him. It started a fastbreak that saw Trimble hit his third 3-pointer of the game to put Maryland ahead 61-58.
“It was a big time play,” said Turgeon. “Justin has a 7-3 wingspan. “That put us up three. Then we continued to do some nice things defensively, We held them to (36.5) percent shooting. We were really guarding. That’s giving us a chance in these games.”
When Jackson, who hit 5-of-7 behind the arc, drilled another one at 5:54, Maryland led 64-60, but the Terrapins weren’t out of the woods.
Morman made a spectacular play of his own, driving baseline to score over Dodd at 2:57 and tie the game 64-64. Huerter hit a key fallaway jumper at 2:01 to make it 66-64, but Adala Moto made two free throws to tie it back up at 1:26.
Trimble missed a three that went in and out, but Morman also missed on a drive, Trimble battling for the rebound and drawing another foul. His two free throws at 35.9 put Maryland ahead for good at 35.9 seconds.
The Tigers had just one field goal (to go with four free throws) in the last six minutes. Lines and Tigers, oh my, as Towson was just 7-of-15 at the free throw line in the second half in finishing 15-of-23 there for the game.
Maryland missed its first five field goal attempts and had two turnovers in the first three minutes of the second half as the Tigers mauled them coming out of the locker room. Towson had a 9-2 spree, Morsell scoring five points and then Morman picking Jackson’s pocket and scoring in transition to make it 45-36 at 17:08.
But Maryland just couldn’t score, missing nine of the first 10 shots in the second half and not tallying a field goal until Trimble – who else? – hit a three at 14:18 to make it 49-39. The Tigers had opened the half with a 13-2 salvo and led by 13 at 14:27 when Starr scored on a drive.
Cowan was 3-of-9 from the field, Huerter 1-of-6 with just four points. Jared Nickens continued to struggle, 0-of-3, and L.G. Gill was 0-of-2, though he made Towson guard him in the post and spaced the floor better when he was in, helping open thing up for Trimble and Jackson. Dodd had five points and five rebounds.
“Right now we can’t make a jump shot except for Justin,” said Turgeon. “We figured out how to get to the foul line. We had nothing going and we were able to win that game. We figured out how to win three games like that, and that’s a good sign.”
The Terrapins trailed 36-34 at the half, after struggling most of the first 20 minutes, too, against the Tigers’ man-to-man and 3-2 zone schemes. Scrappy Towson attacked the glass, outrebounding Maryland 28-13, and shutting down the Terrapins in transition. Maryland hit just 39.1 percent (9-of-23) from the field and wouldn’t even have been in the game if not for Trimble’s 15 points and the team’s 12-of-16 shooting at the free throw line in the first 20 minutes.
A Trimble three, and then a Cowan lay-in from Bender had given Maryland a 9-5 lead at 14:37, but that would be the last Terrapin field goal for nearly seven minutes. Trimble’s three at 7:44 tied the game back up, one of 10 ties and 10 lead changes in the first half.
Dodd blocked a shot and then took a feed from Trimble at 4:01 for a layup to put Maryland back in front 27-26 at 4:01, but Morsell drilled a 3-pointer. Two Trimble free throws tied it back up, Adala Moto canned two free throws at 2:18, and Morsell hit another three to make it 34-29 at 1:44, the biggest lead for either team in the first half.
Trimble got two free throws and then Jackson’s 3-pointer – on the way to 10 first half points – made it 36-34 with just 17.3 seconds left. Appropriately, Towson had multiple chances to score as time expired, but couldn’t. The Tigers had one possession with four shots before Morman hit two free throws as an exasperated Turgeon threw up his arms.
Maryland hosts Stony Nov. 22 at 7 p.m., completing the three-game homestand.