Anthony Cowan prides himself on outplaying taller, seemingly more athletic point guards.
That drive has helped him become Maryland men's basketball's leading scorer this year despite being listed at 6 feet and often lining up as the smallest player on the court. Cowan looked like a rising star with 25 points Wednesday against Butler, coming up big when guard Kevin Huerter committed five turnovers and forward Justin Jackson attempted just four shots.
But unheralded 5-foot-11 Bucknell point guard Stephen Brown outplayed Cowan in the first half Saturday night. Brown received minimal recruiting attention out of Christ Chapel Academy, a tiny Virginia high school. That seemed to give him a mental edge over Cowan, who usually thrives with a chip on his shoulder.
Brown's play almost led to an embarrassing defeat for Maryland against the winless Bison, who led for most of the game. But Cowan bounced back in the second half to push the team to an 80-78 comeback victory.
After Brown snuck past Cowan into the lane and easily finished a reverse layup to give Bucknell a 39-27 lead with less than five minutes left in the first half, a Terps fan near the court shouted, "What are we doing?"
Brown entered halftime with 14 points and two 3-pointers, helping the Bison to a 50-35 advantage at intermission. At the same time, Cowan had just seven points on 1-for-5 shooting.
So, as Cowan walked into the locker room, he carried similar emotions as the heckling fan.
"I was terrible on defense in the first half," Cowan said. "[Brown] really kept them in the game."
Cowan came out of the break with a new vigor, however, displaying the kind of fiery competitiveness that makes him Maryland's ideal leader.
Four minutes into the second half, he stared at Brown while dribbling at the top of the key, yo-yoing the ball back and forth and between his legs until the shot clock hit eight. Then he drilled a deep 3-pointer in Brown's face, cutting the Terps' deficit to single digits.
Cowan laughed as he recalled that play, which seemed to reassert him as the best point guard on the floor. He scored 10 second-half points and led the Terps with 17 for the game.
"It felt good," Cowan said. "I couldn't really get any easy shots, so I'm happy that one fell for me."
Cowan, whose pesky defense earned praise earlier in the year, received help on Brown in the second half. Coach Mark Turgeon set guard Darryl Morsell as the primary defender on Brown and told his players to switch on screens.
Morsell used his 6-foot-4 frame to harry Brown and hold him below 50 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes.
"He's a good player," Morsell said. "He's real fast, deceptive with the ball. But I think in the second half when I guarded him, I used my length, and it affected him."
This wasn't the smooth, double-digit blowout that Maryland enjoyed in its first three contests. Instead, it was the kind of gut check Cowan and the Terps will likely meet throughout Big Ten play, when backcourts stocked with top-50 recruits test their defense.
On Saturday night, they proved they were up for that challenge.
Morsell almost single-handedly powered Maryland's second-half turnaround, using tenacious defense and aggressive drives to the rim to energize the team. He had 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting after the intermission.
Perhaps more importantly, Morsell helped out defensively on Brown in the second half, using his length to slow down a player he called "real fast" and "deceptive" with the ball. Morsell came up with two steals and generally showed the same style of play that made him stand out against Butler.
Like Morsell, Fernando brought immense energy for the second time this week, taking pressure off the Terps' three starting sophomores and pumping up the crowd in the process. He had 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in only 23 minutes, setting the tone inside the paint.
Fernando is shooting over 62 percent from the field this season, showing he can be efficient and play with emotion at the same time.
Cowan led Maryland in scoring thanks to 13 trips to the foul line and delivered a solid all-around performance in the second half, recording at least four rebounds and assists for the third time this year. Still, his early defensive struggles knock him down a peg.
Huerter gave Maryland scoring when it needed it most in the first half, finishing with 16 points. Back-to-back games with five turnovers, however, isn't great.
Jackson finally connected on a 3-pointer in the second half to break an 0-for-8 stretch to start the season. While he only had seven points, he reduced his turnovers from the Butler contest and had another 10-rebound showing. There's still plenty of room for growth for Jackson, but his improvement should give him more confidence moving forward.