The Maryland men's basketball team seemed incapable of matching up with the Big Ten's best teams during blowout defeats against Michigan State and Ohio State earlier this month.
That limitation threatened to derail the season with the Terps likely needing a marquee conference victory to make the NCAA tournament. After all, their only meaningful nonconference win came at home on Nov. 15 against a Butler team that's now lost four of its past five games.
Maryland's matchup with No. 23 Michigan seemed an unlikely place to earn such a crucial result. The Wolverines entered with a 9-1 record at home and knocked off then-No. 4 Michigan State on Saturday. The Terps hadn't put together a convincing performance — win or loss — since forward Justin Jackson went down with a season-ending injury.
But an upset wasn't so unrealistic when guard Anthony Cowan banked in a deep 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring to give Maryland a quick 18-7 lead. Or when the Terps held Michigan to 20 first-half points to take a double-digit advantage into the break.
Guard Kevin Huerter's clutch go-ahead 3-pointer with about three seconds left seemed to ensure a coveted road win over a ranked opponent, a result the NCAA selection committee could look favorably upon in March.
Instead, a last-second foul by forward Bruno Fernando and two converted free throws by Wolverines guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman sealed a heartbreaking 68-67 defeat that'll stick with the Terps longer than the recent double-digit losses they suffered to the Spartans and Buckeyes.
"We battled a lot more in this game than we had in previous games," Huerter said. "This one hurts the most."
Cowan played 40 minutes for the third time this season, providing much-needed stability to a thin roster. He led Maryland's offense throughout the contest, scoring 24 points from a mixture of 3-pointers (4-for-6 from deep) and acrobatic layups. While he committed four turnovers in the final 14 minutes, those giveaways might have been the result of fatigue.
On an off night in which he only scored 12 points, Huerter not only hit the biggest shot of the season for Maryland to give the team a momentary 67-66 lead, but he also made an important three with less than two minutes remaining to keep the Terps close. He'll need to continue that kind of clutch shooting as the Terps fight for a postseason berth.
Having shot above 20 percent just once in his previous four contests, Morsell supplied a surprisingly efficient offensive performance against the Wolverines. By pushing the ball inside, he was able to go 4-for-9 from the field, scoring 10 points to go along with six rebounds and two assists.
Fernando suited up despite being sick, but his health issues seemed to prevent him from playing at his best. He often looked lost on the defensive end and chipped in just five points in 18 minutes of work.
This wasn't a notable performance from the big man, who scored only six points and gathered three rebounds. Still, he stayed out of foul trouble and managed to remain on the floor for most of the second half.