The Maryland men's basketball team's emphasis coming into its game against Ohio Dec. 7 was evident on the first possession of the game when senior center Michal Cekovsky was fed in the post for a one-on-one battle with Bobcats forward Doug Taylor. Cekovsky drew contact and got to the free-throw line, sinking both shots.
Maryland continued to feed Cekovsky throughout its 87-62 win. He scored a season-high 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting from the field, grabbed a season-high eight rebounds and blocked two shots in 19 minutes of action.
"Definitely feels good," Cekovsky said. "That was our plan. We talked before the game -- play inside-out, and we did it. Post the ball more because, finally, we could like run our plays. So I think we follow just the game plan, and we won the game."
The Terps (8-3) just played a stretch of games during which opponents neutralized their interior scoring. Maryland faced a lot of zone defense against Jackson State Nov. 20 and St. Bonaventure Nov. 24, with Jackson State's 3-2 defense and St. Bonaventure's 1-3-1 turning the Terps into a 3-point shooting team. Then Maryland played New Mexico's full court press Nov. 25, Syracuse's 2-3 zone Nov. 27 and Illinois' pressure defense Dec. 3.
None of the defenses allowed the Terps to settle into half-court sets against man-to-man defense and isolate Cekovsky on the post against potential mismatches. The only team that played straight man-to-man in the weeks leading up to the Ohio game was Purdue Dec. 1. But the Boilermakers have two big men -- Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms -- who are both an inch taller than the 7-foot-1 Cekovsky, and Cekovsky had just four points.
"Last games, we play all these kind of defenses, so it was kind of hard to post up," Cekovsky said. "But the game plan was different tonight, so we just followed the game plan."
"That's something that I don't think we've utilized enough in the past couple games is our bigs," sophomore Kevin Huerter said. "And that comes down to our guards just simply looking for them, running plays and getting them a post touch, because a lot of times we have size advantages inside, we have strength advantages, especially with Bruno [Fernando] and Sean [Obi] and Ceko.
"And so today that was a big emphasis that we worked on yesterday. We scrimmaged for it seemed like 10 minutes yesterday in practice with two big lineups and we were just like, 'We want to post the ball. It's something that we're going to be able to utilize tomorrow night.' And Ceko played great. He made all the post moves, he was patient and he made his layups when he needed to. He rebounded for us, so he had a good game."
Cekovsky struggled through an injury-hampered 2016-17 season, missing time with four different ailments, and Terps head coach Mark Turgeon said in October that "
there was never a day he wasn't hurting
." He played eight Big Ten games between all the injuries, averaging 4.9 points while playing limited minutes.
Cekovsky got off to a slow start in Big Ten play this season, too, scoring a combined six points against Purdue and Illinois. But Maryland's five nonconference games Dec. 7-29, beginning with its win against Ohio, has given the Terps a chance to get Cekovsky involved again. Maryland will need an effective Cekovsky and healthy Fernando once it hosts Penn State Jan. 2, and Cekovsky's performance against Ohio was a good start.
"You know Ceko likes to speed up a little bit over the years, and he just was so calm out there, and he looked really good," Turgeon said. "Happy for him; he's been working hard. It's good to see him have a night like this. It's been hard for me to play my big guys because we've played so many small teams, and this team was another one. So whenever my big guys can play well, I'm really happy for them."
TURNOVERS AGAIN AN ISSUE: Maryland committed 19 turnovers against Ohio and has committed 189 turnovers on the season, or 17.2 per game, which ranks 336th out of 351 Division I teams. The Terps won at Illinois despite turning the ball over 25 times.
"At this point, I don't really know what else there is to say," Huerter said. "It's just something that we have to get better at if we want to compete at the highest level. But I don't really know what else to say. We've just got to stop turning the ball over."
Most of Maryland's turnovers against Ohio were avoidable. Freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount St. Joseph) turned it over three times, twice trying to lead a one-man fast break before losing the ball. Sophomore forward Justin Jackson was also guilty of going too fast in transition and losing his handle on the ball.
Fernando made a bad inbounds pass from under his own basket during the first half that quickly led to a steal and 3-pointer by Ohio's Zach Butler. Carter made a layup at the halftime buzzer after he stripped Huerter under the Terps' basket after Huerter grabbed a rebound. Sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. committed a second-half turnover when he was about to pass the ball ahead to Morsell on a fast break, only Morsell tripped at halfcourt.
"I don't want to talk about it, but man, some of our turnovers are just like, it's comical," Turgeon said. "Like, did that really just happen? Like Darryl got tripped on one of Anthony's turnovers. Anthony's getting ready to throw it to him, and Darryl gets tripped. It's just like, hopefully we're getting it all out of the way and when the New Year hits, it changes. But it's just like, some of them are just mind-boggling."
Said Cowan: "That's definitely something that's really hurting us as a team. I think we've just got to play a little bit smarter."
JACKSON ILL: Jackson didn't start against Ohio because he was sick and didn't finish practice Dec. 6, according to the Terps. Morsell made his first start of the season in Jackson's place and had eight points, three assists and four rebounds. Jackson scored 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench.
NEXT UP: Maryland hosts Gardner-Webb at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 9. The North Carolina school is 3-7 and competes in the Big South Conference.