COLLEGE PARK — Jalen Smith went up for a layup in the second half, but his shot was blocked from behind. No problem: He maintained control of the ball, emerged from a double team and scored the putback.
It wasn’t one of Smith’s flashiest plays on a night full of highlight-reel dunks, but it was a telling window into the big man’s dominance — on the next trip up the floor, he received a pass and drew a triple team.
With 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds, Smith extended the nation’s longest active double-double streak to nine games, and No. 7 Maryland beat last-place Northwestern, 76-67.
The Terrapins (22-4, 12-3 Big Ten) grabbed their ninth straight win and improved to 15-0 at home. They increased their Big Ten lead to two games after second-place Penn State lost to Illinois and fell to 10-5 in conference play.
Anthony Cowan scored 19 points and Darryl Morsell added 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Smith was all over the rims, finishing with five dunks and grabbing 12 of his rebounds in the first half alone. He was aware after the game how close he’d come to a 20-20 performance.
“I mean, it hurts,” Smith said, smiling. “I didn’t realize how close I was until probably three minutes (left in) the game.”
Smith is “doing even better than I imagined this year,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said.
“And even two months ago, in December, I wasn’t sure we could get to this so fast. He’s just so confident. I was really hoping he would get 20-20 (but the Wildcats) made the shot there at the end.”
“He’s doing a lot for us,” Cowan added. “What y’all don’t see is how he’s covering a lot for our mistakes on the defensive end.”
Northwestern only trailed by single-digits for most of the second half, but with a little more than four minutes to play, a Cowan-to-Smith alley-oop — their second such connection of the night — helped seal the result.
The Wildcats hung around in the first half, too, making gains while Cowan and Smith rested on the bench, and were able to cut an early deficit down to 25-22. But consecutive 3-pointers by Morsell and Aaron Wiggins created breathing room and hurt any momentum Northwestern built.
In the final seconds of the half, the Terrapins shuttled the ball down to Morsell under the basket, and he heaved up a pass over the rim that Smith was able to slam home with one second to go. The crowd-pleasing play put Maryland ahead 37-25 at halftime, and the Terrapins’ 5-out motion offense maintained a steady lead from there.
Northwestern was able to draw within four once during the second half, but Maryland locked in and scored seven of the next nine points.
“We just don’t get rattled too often,” Cowan said. “We knew they was gonna go on a run, but we just knew we had to lock in on defense and our offense was gonna come and that’s what we did.”
Cowan passed Tom McMillen for eighth on the program’s all-time scoring list, a “super special” honor for the Bowie, Maryland native that his peers congratulated him for.
“To be honest, my teammates are probably more into it than I am in terms of passing people in scoring and all that,” Cowan said. “But I’m very appreciative, when you got teammates that support you and vice versa.”
Northwestern lost its 10th straight. Ryan Young led the Wildcats with 17 points and eight rebounds and Boo Buie added 15 points.
When these teams met last month in Evanston, Illinois, the Terrapins let Northwestern take a 14-point lead into halftime before coming back for a 77-66 win.
Five games remain on Maryland’s regular-season slate. Up next is a road trip against Ohio State on Sunday and Minnesota the following Wednesday.
The road won’t get easier for the Terrapins, especially with conference opponents gunning for them at the top of the standings, Smith said.
“There’s always going to be pressure when there’s a number by your name, but at the end of the day it’s just a number,” he said. “Like I said, at any point in time anybody can be beaten. So it’s just a matter of how you come out and play, if you play hard and just take every game seriously.”
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