COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — It’s no coincidence that Jalen Smith’s run of consecutive double-doubles coincides with Maryland’s current winning streak.
Smith had 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds for his ninth straight double-double, and No. 7 Maryland never trailed in a 76-67 victory over Northwestern on Tuesday night.
Maryland was 3-3 in the Big Ten before Smith began his string of double-doubles and the Terrapins rattled off nine successive wins. Maryland (22-4, 12-3) now stands alone in first place, two games ahead of Penn State.
Over the past nine games, the 6-foot-10 Smith is averaging 18.9 points and 12.7 rebounds. He’s gotten plenty of help from senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr., but on this night the Terrapins turned to Smith — and the player nicknamed “Stix” delivered in a big way.
“Stix was phenomenal tonight, one rebound short of 20-20,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “He was at another level.”
The last Maryland player to get 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game was Joe Smith against Texas in the 1995 NCAA Tournament. The younger Smith fell one rebound short, and he knew it.
“It hurts,” he said. “I didn’t realize how close I was until three minutes (left) in the game. I still have my career high in rebounds, so that’s a plus.”
Smith achieved his 17th double-double of the season by halftime. In two games against Northwestern this season, the sophomore has 47 points and 30 rebounds.
Asked if he’s seen enough of Smith, Northwestern coach Chris Collins replied, “I think everyone’s probably had enough of him. He does this against everybody because he’s a terrific player.”
Cowan scored 19 for the Terrapins, who improved their record at home to 15-0.
Ryan Young scored 17 and Boo Buie added 15 for the Wildcats (6-19, 1-14) in their 10th successive defeat. Northwestern played well but was no match for Smith, who’s improved dramatically from his freshman season by adding muscle and gaining experience.
“Last year, his skill level was there and athleticism but you were able to kind of get into his body a little bit and get him off-balance,” Collins said.
“He’s doing a lot for us,” Cowan said. “He’s covering for our mistakes on the defensive end, got a lot of second-chance opportunities because of him. And we needed all of them.”
Down by 12 at halftime, Northwestern trailed only 50-46 with 10:45 left. It was 63-57 before a dunk by Smith, two free throws by Cowan and layup by Aaron Wiggins put the Terps up 69-57 with 3:23 remaining.
When the teams met at Northwestern a month ago, the Terrapins rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to win 77-66. This time, Maryland took charge at the outset.
Smith had 10 points and six rebounds in the opening seven minutes to stake the Terps to a 17-6 lead. After the Wildcats closed to 25-22, Darryl Morsell, Wiggins and Eric Ayala hit successive 3s and Cowan added a free throw for a 13-point cushion.
A late dunk by Smith made it 37-25 at halftime.
MOVING ON UP
Cowan passed Tom McMillen to move into eighth place on Maryland’s career scoring list. Cowan, a senior guard, has 1,809 points and is 49 short of catching Lonny Baxter for seventh. The school record is 2,269 by Juan Dixon.
Northwestern: The Wildcats can take solace in making a game of it on the road against a Top 10 team. But what Northwestern could use instead of a moral victory is a real one, a feat the Wildcats haven’t accomplished since Jan. 11 against Nebraska.
“A lot of our guys, they’ve never even played here, which is crazy. That’s how young this group is,” Collins said. “I’m just really proud of coming in here and the way we competed against one of the best teams in America.”
Maryland: One week after squeezing past lowly Nebraska at home, the Terrapins left nothing to chance against an overmatched opponent. It wasn’t a blowout, but the outcome was never really in doubt. Maryland now stands two wins away from a perfect season at home.
Northwestern hosts Minnesota on Sunday, the rematch of a game the Wildcats lost 77-68 on Jan. 5.
Maryland faces No. 25 Ohio State on Sunday to begin a stretch in which the Terrapins play three of four on the road.
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