COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- On a night when Maryland’s starting point guard and leading scorer, junior Melo Trimble, couldn’t buy a bucket, the Terps’ two “other” ball-handlers offered up an assist (pun intended). Freshman starter Anthony Cowan and junior Jaylen Brantley, Trimble’s main backup, both put aside recent shooting slumps to help the Terps score 86 points in an nine-point victory against Ohio State Feb. 11.
Cowan ended up leading the squad with 19 on 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and a perfect 10-of-10 from the charity stripe. Brantley, meanwhile, was also 3-of-4 from 3 en route to 11 points off the bench.
“The last couple games I was starting to force things, but this game I really wanted to sit back and get my teammates involved. I settled down, and I started hitting shots,” Cowan said. “Last week I was in the gym after practice, before practice, just trying to get shots up. I knew I’d been struggling, so I wanted to make sure I could help my team. … I did what I needed to do to get ready.”
“Coach [Mark Turgeon] always talks about how we need bench production,” added Brantley. “So when we finally get in the game, we just try to be aggressive and help the team any way we can. I did my best to step up [against OSU].”
Neither Brantley’s nor Cowan’s performances came out of nowhere. Both have proven themselves capable of dialing in from deep this season. But, of late, they have not contributed much on the offensive end, particularly from distance.
Cowan had been suffering through a woeful 0-for-11 from range that spanned five games. And during Maryland’s back-to-back losses against Purdue and Penn State, he scored just eight total points.
“I met with Anthony [Feb. 9] and said, ‘Here’s what I want. The last seven games I want you to lead the league in assists and be a great defender. I don’t care how much you score,’” Turgeon said. “So because you say that it takes the pressure off [the shooting]… Tonight he was getting assists, got to the foul line and was a much better defender… And then he started hitting shots.”
Brantley did hit one 3 against Penn State, but he missed three others and finished 1-for-5 from the field. Then, the game prior, he was held scoreless in 16 minutes in a rather forgettable performance against the Boilermakers. Before busting out with a trio of triples Feb. 11, Brantley hadn’t nailed more than one 3 in a game since the Terps beat Iowa six games ago.
But both lead guards quickly erased the recent past by connecting early and often versus the Buckeyes.
Brantley sliced inside for a layup 10 minutes into the game before hitting his first 3 on the very next possession. Less than two minutes later, the diminutive guard knocked down another triple as part of an eight-point surge that helped UMD build a double-digit lead.
Later in the game, with Maryland’s advantage cut to six, Brantley stepped out once again for his third trey of the night. He followed that up by finding a cutting L.G. Gill underneath as the Terps pulled away once again.
“[Brantley] was great. After the last game, it was eating at him and he couldn’t wait to play [Feb. 11],” Turgeon said. “He hit some big shots for us, had a big steal for us, made the layup. He did a lot, and it was great to see Jaylen step up.”
Cowan, for his part, knocked down his first 3 two minutes into the game, draining an open shot off a pass from Trimble. The former D.C. star didn’t connect again the rest of the first half, but he went off in the second frame, nailing a pair of treys and drawing fouls to reach the free-throw line.
Cowan, though, saved his best shot for last. With Ohio State making a late run to draw within five points, Cowan stepped back and connected on a top-of-the-key 3 with 42 seconds left to effectively ice the game.
“I hit my first shot and that gave me confidence, so I thought why not take another?” Cowan said. “The shot clock was going down, I saw the defender kind of back off and I [put it up]… Coach Turgeon’s message was just to not overthink it… and I didn’t.”
Kevin Huerter, who assisted Cowan’s 3-ball, concurred with his fellow backcourt mate.
“[Cowan] definitely played a lot more confident and a lot of it has to do with he hit his first shot. I always say it’s big when you hit your first shot,” Huerter said. “And not only was he scoring, but he was getting to the rim, defending, finding guys and setting people up for their shots. We know he can do that every game. We have a lot of confidence in him and know there’s a lot more to his game than just scoring.”
Huerter actually ended up hitting a key jumper of his own just seconds before Cowan’s. Coincidentally enough, it was Cowan who found Huerter with two minutes to go, allowing the wing to step way outside and drain an NBA-style trey.
At the time, the Buckeyes seemingly had the momentum, but Huerter sapped it in one sweet stroke that had OSU head coach Thad Matta complimenting the sharpshooter (and Cowan too) after the game.
“Unbelievable. I told [Huerter] his shot was an over-and-back it was so far out,” Matta said. “And Cowan, we wanted to force him to take shots, and sure enough he made them – he was 3-of-4. Those guys stepped up.”
Count Turgeon as impressed as well.
“That’s why you recruit so darn hard,” Turgeon said. “To be honest, I thought [Cowan’s and Huerter’s shots] were both going in when they shot them. I just felt those guys do that. Anthony, he had rhythm. He hit the 3 earlier and made free throws. And Kevin can shoot a jump shot from half-court, so that’s not surprising for him… They were dialed in.”
During the Terps’ two losses before the Ohio State affair, Maryland didn’t have anyone who could consistently score with Trimble’s stroke somewhat off. But for this team to make any noise in the conference playoffs and deeper into March, Cowan, Huerter, Justin Jackson and key bench pieces like Brantley have to show out like they did Feb. 11 at Xfinity Center.
“It takes the pressure off of [Trimble] when other guys are making big shots… It opens things up for him,” Huerter said. “It’s really important for [other players] to have confidence and take big shots.”