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Maryland wins Big Ten title with 83-70 victory over Michigan

Cowan has climbed program record lists. He has won 90 times here, hit game-winning shots and never missed a game. But this was what Cowan wanted, a title attached to a name and a reason for nobody to forget what he accomplished in College Park.

The Maryland senior lifted the trophy, confetti flew around the table and Coach Mark Turgeon appeared to release every bit of emotion pent-up inside him. When he addressed the crowd, Turgeon said: “Anybody see the thousand-pound gorilla that left, that was on my back? That’s not there anymore.”

Cowan referenced Turgeon’s words after the game and said he felt similar pressure. But as soon as the Terrapins’ celebration began, Cowan said, “I was able to let loose a little bit.”

Maryland hadn’t won a conference title since 2010, two years before Turgeon’s first season in College Park. But this season’s group, filled with talent and potential, seemed poised to finally accomplish just that. Those expectations on Turgeon, and on Cowan, the point guard who has waited for a celebration like this all year.

“Anthony, you got it, brother!” Turgeon screamed into the microphone.

Fans spilled onto the court as everyone connected to this team climbed the ladder to cut the nets. Players and staff members found their families, giving each other extended hugs — the kind that show how much the other person understands what led to this moment. A sense of relief pulsed through the building.

“There’s a lot that goes into this,” sophomore Eric Ayala said.

No. 9 Maryland earned a share of the Big Ten title by winning the game that mattered most. Cowan carried the team with 20 points and eight assists. Cowan has started every game since he arrived on campus, and in his last outing in front of the Xfinity Center crowd, he accomplished what he most desired.

“For him to cap it off like that,” Ayala said, “I think he’s stamped as one of the Maryland greats.”

Cowan made the final cut of the first net that came down, placing what remained around his neck. Cowan said he still has to process what this all means. He’s not sure yet what he’ll do with the net, but said, “I ain’t losing it, though.”

Sophomore Jalen Smith has complemented Cowan all season, becoming a dominant force on the inside, and in the season finale, he again assembled an impressive performance with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

The Terps surged to the top of the conference with a nine-game winning streak, but they had struggled lately, losing three of their previous four games. Maryland could have grabbed the Big Ten title with a win in either of its last two games, but the Terps lost to at home to Michigan State, then fell flat from the start at Rutgers.

“I just wanted to get it,” Turgeon said. “We had it hanging over us for two weeks.”

Maryland had four days to regroup after that difficult stretch, and the Terps returned from the brief layoff playing much more like a title-worthy team. The recent losses meant Maryland couldn’t win the league outright. Instead, the Terps (24-7, 14-6 Big Ten) settled for a tie with Wisconsin. Michigan State could also earn a share of the title if it beats Ohio State later Sunday.

Maryland stormed ahead in the first half, with a lead as large as 13 points. But after the break, Michigan threatened the Terps’ title hopes and Cowan’s senior day send-off. The Wolverines whittled Maryland’s lead down to three points midway through the second half, before the Terrapins responded on both ends.

With just over a minute to play, the Wolverines had to start fouling, but the Terps made their free throws, giving Turgeon enough assurance to play his senior walk-ons, Travis Valmon and Will Clark, with 26.7 seconds to go.

The Terps had one of their best offensive performances of the season, shooting 56 percent from the field with plenty of help across the roster. Four players — Cowan, Smith, Ayala and Aaron Wiggins — scored at least 15 points.

Ayala and Wiggins, sophomores who have each struggled sporadically this season, hit timely shots. Ayala scored a season-high 19 points. He nailed a three-pointer that capped Maryland’s quick 6-0 burst after Michigan had cut the lead to three. Ayala hit another shot from deep a couple of minutes later, this time extending the Terps’ advantage to 10. When he missed two free throws, Ayala grabbed the rebound and then assisted on a Wiggins three-pointer. At that moment, Turgeon said he knew Maryland would win. Wiggins hit three shots from deep in this game and scored 10 of his 15 points after halftime.

“Those two haven’t shot the ball the way they want to shoot it, but maybe today’s the start of them doing what they need to do,” Turgeon said of Ayala and Wiggins. “If that happens, March can be a lot of fun for us.”

Those are the performances that offer encouragement heading into the postseason. Cowan and Smith are known commodities, but the players who surround them are essential. Maryland needed them to win this conference title, and the team hope to rely on them more in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

After a lackluster defensive effort against Rutgers, the Terrapins’ defense looked far more like its early-season self with active and aggressive play. The Wolverines kept the game within reach thanks to David Dejulius’s career-best offensive production. Dejulius, who averaged 6.6 points per game entering this matchup, scored 20 off the bench against the Terps.

But through the final 10 minutes of the game, Maryland’s lead continued to grow. The championship trophy waiting in an Xfinity Center office, all the hats and all the T-shirts weren’t there for no reason. Anthony Cowan Jr. finally has a title at Maryland. So does Mark Turgeon.

“I’m not into a lot of things, but to hang a banner,” Turgeon said, “that’s pretty cool.”

Long after the game had ended, and the players soaked in all the celebratory hoopla, Turgeon finally climbed the ladder toward the Xfinity Center net. He pumped his fist in each direction, the band played and the coach lifted the detached net into the air.

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