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Penn State vs No. 4 Maryland Preview: Time to Make a Statement

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Returning home the Lions have another chance to prove they belong with the league’s best.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State returns home to face their second-straight Top-10 foe, with a chance to give Maryland their first loss of the season. Seven of the last eight games between these two teams have been decided by 7 points or fewer. Of course, the Ohio State series was also extremely competitive prior to Saturday’s blowout, so take that for what you will.

Penn State will need to move on from their performance on Saturday in a hurry. Maryland has one of the most-talented lineups in the country, which is reflected by their high ranking and success so far this year. Still, they haven’t quite found their groove the way that Ohio State has at this point in the season. So while it’s going to be another difficult game against a top-tier opponent, the Terrapins have looked beatable so far. They easily could’ve lost to both Temple and Illinois without some late-game heroics from Anthony Cowan.

Scouting the opposition

The Terrapins are off to a 10-0 start, their best since the 1998-99 season when they lost in the Sweet Sixteen to St. John’s as a 2-seed. Wins over Notre Dame and Illinois last week moved Maryland down from #3 to #4 in the AP poll, sandwiched between Ohio State and Michigan.

Cowan leads the way for Maryland in scoring and assists, and is the go-to player whenever the Terps badly need a bucket. He’s currently fifth in the conference in scoring with 16.6 ppg, just behind Penn State’s Lamar Stevens who averages 16.8 ppg. The senior point guard will be challenged by Jamari Wheeler, but between his deep 3-point range and ability to get to the FT line, Cowan will be tough to cancel out completely.

The Terps are reaping the benefits of the return of all three of their talented freshman recruits from 2018-19. Jalen Smith is having an outstanding sophomore year so far averaging a double-double with 13.6 ppg and 10.1 rpg. He’s joined by guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins both averaging over 10 points a game. Along with junior Darryl Morsell the Terps have five experienced players who can win one-on-one matchups to put points on the board.

A trio of freshman forwards will see significant minutes tonight. Donta Scott has started in five games this season, and shown an ability to hit shots from inside the paint and on the perimeter - an area we saw Mike Watkins and John Harrar struggle to defend on Saturday. Twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell at 6-foot-10 provide talented depth behind Smith.

What to watch for

Wheeler v. Cowan - Penn State’s defensive dynamo will be put to the test against one of the best, most-clutch PGs in the country. There’s no question in my mind that Wheeler will harass Cowan and keep him contained for stretches of the game, but can he do it without fouling? More importantly, if the game is close late, Wheeler will need to stick to Cowan like glue to prevent him from hitting a huge 3 in the final minutes as he seems to do routinely.

Transition Points - I’m keeping this one from the last game since failure to create transition points did Penn State no favors early. In stretches where the Nittany Lions kept pace with the Buckeyes, they were helped immensely by run-outs off missed shots and turnovers. Tonight again it will be crucial to create easy scoring opportunities against a Maryland team playing better defense than ever under Mark Turgeon.

Bench Points - Maryland had only 2 in their 59-58 win over the Illini on Saturday. Penn State had 41. Strong performances again from Izaiah Brockington, Seth Lundy and Curtis Jones Jr. would give the Nittany Lions an edge and allow them to take advantage of Maryland’s lineups when Cowan and/or Smith are on the bench.

Prediction

Lamar Stevens settles in for a big game, while the 3-point shooting gets back on track. Cowan and the Terps keep it close, but the home team pulls away down the stretch. Penn State 78, Maryland 72