Midway through the first half of Maryland men's basketball's game against Northwestern on Saturday, guard Anthony Cowan fouled Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh, sending McIntosh to the floor holding his knee.
McIntosh limped to the huddle and didn't miss any time, but the fall added insult to injury for the senior and typified the relentless defense Maryland displayed all night. McIntosh had missed both of his shots to that point and finished scoreless for the first time in his career.
Northwestern shot just 33.3 percent and never threatened in the second half, as the Terps combined their defensive effort with hot shooting to earn a comfortable 73-57 win over a team that entered Thursday with a better Big Ten record.
"Everybody that played today played really well," coach Mark Turgeon said. "Once we locked in, it's as good as we've played defensively."
Against Penn State on Wednesday, Maryland's poor defensive showing neutralized its 54.3 shooting percentage, leading to a tight 74-70 loss. The Terps corrected that mistake against Northwestern while staying locked in on offense, led by guard Kevin Huerter's 22 points.
"Last couple of games, I think our offense has been really good and our defense has definitely lacked," guard Anthony Cowan said. "That was a big emphasis today, just making sure we … flew around."
Forward Bruno Fernando had a pair of emphatic first-half blocks, and he stared down Wildcats guard Scottie Lindsey after pinning his shot to the backboard. The Terps finished with seven blocks and six steals. Lindsey scored a team-high 20 but needed 20 shots to get there.
Maryland built a 32-16 lead by making 12 of its first 18 shots, but missed six of its final seven entering halftime.
"Guys were focused," Turgeon said. "I could see it in their eyes before the game that they were ready."
The slump before halftime allowed the Wildcats to cut Maryland's lead to just five points with 44 seconds left. Huerter, the only Terp to score in the last 5:45, hit an off-balanced shot just before the break to give Maryland the 36-29 advantage it carried into the break.
The Terps redistanced themselves with a quick 7-0 run after intermission, forcing a Northwestern timeout. The Wildcats never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
"We controlled the second half after that," Cowan said.
After hitting 35.5 percent of its shots in the first half, Northwestern shot just 30.8 percent in the final 20 minutes. Four Wildcats entered Saturday averaging double figures, but Lindsey and center Dererk Pardon were the only players to reach 10 points against Maryland, and Turgeon was proud of his team for keeping Pardon to 12 points on nine shots.
The Terps' interior defense received a boost with the return of center Michal Cekovsky, who played his first minutes since bruising his left heel Jan. 30, providing depth the team badly needed in losses to the Boilermakers and Nittany Lions.
"He was a little rusty in the game but it's good to have him back," Turgeon said. "That length around the rim and his ball-screen defense was terrific."
Turgeon said Maryland's defense of ball screens was also the key to keeping McIntosh, who entered Saturday averaging 13 points per game, off the scoresheet. His 0-for-5-shooting, three-turnover performance will stick out on his game log.
But it looked right in place on Saturday's box score, surrounded by similarly ugly lines from many of his teammates.
"After the Penn State game, coach challenged us," guard Dion Wiley said. "He didn't think we guarded to our ability. None of us did. We took on the challenge today."