EAST LANSING -- Maryland had seen its 15-point lead over Michigan State evaporate and morph into a 60-53 deficit with 3:08 left to play. Sole possession of first place in the Big Ten was in peril. Empty possessions had become routine for the Terrapins and another would further extinguish any flicker of hope.
Jalen Smith faked a ball screen and found himself all alone for a triple try. Without hesitation he fired, and found nothing but net. It changed everything, sparking a stunning 14-0 Maryland run to close the game and bring a conference crown closer to reality.
"Sometimes that's how you have to win in this building," Mark Turgeon said. "Sneak up right there at the end and get it done."
Anthony Cowan, who went on to score 11 unanswered points -- including three three-pointers over the final 2:24 -- will be rightly remembered as the hero. But it was Smith's shot that busted the door open, changing the momentum on a dime and seeding the first inklings of dread in the Breslin Center crowd.
It feels as though this is the Terrapins' year, just as it was the Spartans' time last season.
With the circus of College GameDay in town, Turgeon kept his players away from the building until game time. Smith used the time to sleep, a far more relaxing pregame than he had last season when he traveled to East Lansing and was held to six points and three rebounds in a lopsided loss.
There were questions about his health at the time, but the real reason for his discomfort came from some over-hydration.
"I drank too much water pregame," Smith said. "It was a stretch of games where I started throwing up before every game from the water, so during the tournament I stopped doing as much and it helped me a lot."
Lesson learned. Proper H2O intake on Saturday, combined with some napping, helped fuel the sophomore to 17 points and 10 rebounds on 8-for-14 shooting. He had two crucial and-ones in the second half to momentarily halt MSU's avalanche.
Smith now has eight straight double-doubles, the third-longest streak in school history (Jordan Williams and Len Elmore, 12). The 6-foot-10 sophomore is establishing himself as one of the premier big men in the region and perhaps the country, improving his draft stock by leaps and bounds.
His game-altering triple is an example of his growth. Last year he shot 26.8 percent from behind the arc. This season he's up to 39.4.
Though Smith said his pregame unsettledness last season had nothing to do with nerves, his transformation into a someone who has iron guts in crunchtime was readily apparent this week. On Tuesday he preserved the Terrapins' victory over Nebraska with a last second-block.
That's two enormous moments in a matter of days.
Maryland's trajectory will put Smith in position to deliver in more high-leverage situations. And it appears he has the stomach to keep doing it.