MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Maryland still has more freshmen in the starting lineup than losses this season.
The teenage Terrapins, with age-defying poise, have begun to display the potential to top the Sweet 16 trip for last year’s team.
Justin Jackson had a career-high 28 points and 10 rebounds, making all five of his 3-point attempts, and No. 22 Maryland beat Minnesota 85-78 on Saturday for its sixth straight win.
“We don’t call them `freshmen.’ We call them `young guys,”‘ Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said. “They’re good players. They don’t think about the stage. They’re just playing basketball. They’ve done it their whole lives.”
Kevin Huerter went 5 for 7 from 3-point range and finished with 19 points, and Anthony Cowan added eight points, five assists, no turnovers and tight defense on Minnesota’s leading scorer Nate Mason. Cowan, Huerter and Jackson have played well enough in their first season that junior star Melo Trimble said he sees a resemblance in their performance to his as a freshman.
“They’re just playing with no second thought,” said Trimble, who had 13 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers. “They’re just shooting the ball, playing basketball. They’re not worrying about foul calls or missed shots or anything like that. I’m really proud of them.”
Minnesota entered the afternoon with the Big Ten’s lowest 3-point shooting percentage allowed, but Maryland was undaunted and more than willing to engage in a long-range launching contest as the Terrapins (19-2, 7-1) kept pace with Wisconsin in a tie for first place in the Big Ten.
“We believe in ourselves, and we believe in each other,” Jackson said. “I always say that our chemistry off the court spills on the court.”
Akeem Springs led the Gophers (15-7, 3-6) with a season-high 23 points, but they lost their fifth consecutive game despite a 41-31 rebound advantage and a 21-10 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Coach Richard Pitino gave his on-the-ball defense an `F’ grade, with Maryland making more than half of its field-goal attempts (30 for 59), including an 11-for-18 performance from beyond the arc. Trimble and Cowan penetrated with the dribble and consistently kicked the ball out to open teammates on the wing.
“That’s just on us, man,” said a downcast Springs, who buried his face in his hands at the podium between postgame questions from reporters.
FIRST HALF EDGE: MINNESOTA
The Terrapins were four-point underdogs, wary of last year’s 68-63 flop at Minnesota that gave the Gophers their first Big Ten victory after starting 0-13 in conference play, and the Gophers got their crowd going with a 19-1 run sparked largely by Springs that gave them a 21-9 lead past the midpoint of the first half.
Four of their first six made field goals were dunks, further enhancing the energy in the 89-year-old arena. Amir Coffey, who has produced most of his best rookie performances against Minnesota’s toughest opponents, swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 44 seconds left before halftime for a 33-26 lead. He scored each of his 11 points in the first half.
Trimble’s twisting, foul-drawing layup, after which he glared at the Minnesota student section for emphasis, put the Terrapins in front 58-56 for the first time since 9-8. Trimble gave them the lead again at 73-71 with a similar, gravity-defying move that drew a foul on Springs for a three-point play with 2:49 left.
Mason answered with a 3-pointer and tied the game at 76 with a pair of foul shots with 1:47 remaining, but Huerter hit a 3-pointer from the corner to quiet the crowd and help the Terrapins inch toward the finish.
“I feel for our guys,” Pitino said. “We’ve got to break through.”
Maryland: Trimble got to double-digit points for the 19th time in 21 games, but the sharpshooting freshmen carried most of the load for the Terrapins. Proving they can win in a raucous environment on the road without a major impact by Trimble was an important accomplishment.
Minnesota: Pitino picked an odd time this week considering the losing streak to talk to his players about the NCAA Tournament, but his urging of the Gophers to keep their confidence came with a reminder of their strength of schedule that’s a significant factor for the selection committee come March. They’re well past time for a win, though, if they’re going to make it.
“We’ll circle back with the optimism in a couple days,” Pitino said.
Maryland: The Terrapins stay on the road for a game on Tuesday at Ohio State.
Minnesota: The Gophers have a full week to prepare for a trip to play at Illinois on Feb. 4.