Northwestern has struggled this season, but when the Wildcats travel to Big Ten leader and No. 7-ranked Maryland on Tuesday, they'll meet a team they had on the ropes for most of the game earlier this season in Evanston, Ill.
Of course, the Terrapins (21-4, 11-3) are streaking now heading into the home clash at College Park, Md., winners of eight consecutive games, including Saturday's huge 67-60 victory at Michigan State, a place where neither Maryland nor many Big Ten teams have had much success. Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. scored the Terrapins' last 11 points and Maryland ended the game on a decisive 14-0 run.
In addition to Cowan's 24 points, 6-foot-10 forward Jalen Smith posted his eighth consecutive double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"I think different guys step up for us all the time," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said of his red-hot team. "We stopped listening to all the noise and just started believing in ourselves."
The Terrapins squandered an early 15-point lead against the Spartans, trailed by seven points late, then rallied behind Cowan's heroics. Such tense games have been common for Maryland this season, which nearly lost to Nebraska at home just before the big road win at Michigan State. A late blocked shot by Smith preserved a 72-70 victory over the Cornhuskers.
The Wildcats (6-18, 1-13) have lost nine straight games and haven't had much luck at all in close games. Northwestern is just 1-7 in games decided by five points or less, and on Jan. 26, after taking a 15-point lead against the Terrapins, the Wildcats couldn't hang on.
Pat Spencer had 17 points and Miller Kopp 16, and the Big Ten's lowest-scoring team even led 40-26 at the half, before Maryland made a run. The Terrapins took their first lead with just over nine minutes left before pulling away for a hard-fought 77-66 win.
Northwestern also led early at Penn State on Saturday, then ranked No. 13, before succumbing 77-61.
"I thought in the last five or six minutes we had numerous opportunities in the paint that we couldn't finish and that's just where we have to get better," Wildcats coach Chris Collins said. "We're playing a lot of young kids. We need to learn physicality and learn how to finish late in the game.
Spencer, the former Loyola (Md.) lacrosse star from Davidsonville, Md., had 11 points at Penn State, and Kopp, the 6-7 sophomore forward, had 10. Pete Nance, a 6-10 sophomore, hit 6 of 7 shots to finish with 12 points, sharing team scoring honors with Boo Buie. Nance was 5 of 8 with 11 points in the first meeting with Maryland.
Nance will have his hands full inside against Maryland's Smith. Smith had 25 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting. But the versatile Smith, who is shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range, canned a big 3 to start Maryland's late run at Michigan State.
And besides trying to contain Cowan, Northwestern will also have to content with 6-6 guard Aaron Wiggins, who had 17 points off the bench in the first meeting with the Wildcats. He hit five 3-pointers in that game.
Northwestern is back home Sunday to host Minnesota. Maryland plays the first of two straight road games Sunday at No. 25 Ohio State.
--Field Level Media