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Four Observations On The Terps' Win Against Penn State

January 3, 2018
The Maryland men's basketball team beat Penn State, 75-69, in College Park, Md., Jan. 2 before 14,374 fans to improve to 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. Here are four observations on the victory against the Nittany Lions (11-5, 1-2):

1. Terps head coach Mark Turgeon played senior Michal Cekovsky and freshman Bruno Fernando together a lot for the first time this year.

Turgeon started senior Jared Nickens at power forward during Maryland's win against UMBC Dec. 29, but he opted for junior Ivan Bender at the four at the start of the second half. After Bender left the game with an injury -- which was later revealed to be a torn meniscus in his right knee -- Turgeon finished the game with small lineups. 

It was probably only a matter of time until Turgeon would start Fernando and Cekovsky -- the Terps' two most athletic and offensively gifted big men -- after the injuries to Bender and sophomore Justin Jackson, and the pair started Jan. 2. Fernando and Cekovsky both stayed out of foul trouble -- they combined for three fouls on the night -- and were able to play 32 and 29 minutes, respectively.

"I knew Ivan wasn't good the night we played we played UMBC," Turgeon said Jan. 2. "When I went to bed that night, I decided I was going to do that. I think I even told Ceko before we left the building that night that I was going to go big lineup. I feel confident with Ceko guarding a perimeter guy with his length. He's smart. He's been around. It's been hard for Ceko because he had to learn the four spot offensively because we don't want to confuse Bruno. Ceko hadn't practiced the four, so in two days he had to learn it."

Cekovsky had 10 points with his usual high-percentage looks around the rim as well as six rebounds and two assists. One of Cekovsky's assists was to junior Dion Wiley for an open 3-pointer when a 2-3 zone Penn State briefly played collapsed inside. 

More important than Cekovsky's offensive contribution was what he displayed on the defensive end. Cekovsky has rarely guarded the power forward spot during his four years in College Park. He had to hold up in certain situations against Penn State's Lamar Stevens, a 6-foot-8 sophomore averaging 14.1 points per game this year.

"Ivan and Justin were always talking to me on the sideline during the practices that we had in the last two days," Cekovsky said. "They were trying to help me, teach me because I haven't played for awhile. Coach also did a great job teaching me everything. I think it gives us so much more length, especially in a zone defense. It's going to probably help us with the rebounding, too with that size. So I think it's good for us."

Fernando had a double-double, recording 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting and pulling down 11 rebounds. Fernando expanded his offensive game, showing an ability to drive the ball from the 3-point line -- his strides are so long, he can pick up his dribble around the free-throw line -- and a soft-shooting touch

"I would say for me, I haven't been at my best yet. I felt like I had a lot of things holding me back," Fernando said. "I had to deal with a couple ankle injuries, and it was kind of trying to come back and playing through pain. … I'm doing much better. I'm able to move way better. I still feel some pain, but it's not nothing to hold me back, so I just keep playing through it."

2. Turgeon went small in crunch time, and freshman Darryl Morsell made the biggest shot of the game.

With the game on the line late, Turgeon opted to roll with sophomore Anthony Cowan Jr. at point guard; sophomore Kevin Huerter, Morsell and Nickens on the wings; and Cekovsky and Fernando rotating at center. Cowan and Huerter were aggressive late -- the pair got to the line a combined 15 times in the second half -- and an extra shooter in Nickens helped space the floor to drive the lane. 

Morsell played 34 minutes on the night despite struggling mightily shooting the ball for most of the afternoon, akin to his performance against Purdue a month prior. He was 0-for-6 from the floor in the first half, and two of his shots were 3-point attempts that he badly missed. 

However, Morsell was the star of the game-defining sequence for the Terps. Penn State led by one or two possessions for most of the second half, and the Terps struggled to get over the hump and re-take the lead. That changed when Morsell made a corner three with 4:36 left to tie the game at 61. Cowan drove, drew three defenders and passed to an open Morsell, who made just his second 3-pointer of the year and first since November. 

"For the most part he drove it, but he was open by 20 feet," Turgeon said. "He works at it, and he probably works too hard at it. It's probably been part of the problem with his shooting, because he actually ices his wrist and has a heat pack on before the game because he practices shooting so much. That was a big load off his shoulders and our team. I felt like when that went in, we were going to probably win the game."

Added Cowan: "That just shows a lot about him. When we really needed it, he can hit it for us. So I think that brings not only confidence to him but also just confidence for us as teammates to be able to, when he's open, give him the ball so he can be able to shoot it."

Morsell followed that with a defensive rebound on the other end, which led to a Cekovsky dunk that gave the Terps the lead for good. 

3. Cowan played all 40 minutes -- and it won't be the last time he does so this year.

Turgeon simply couldn't find a time to take Cowan out of the game. Turgeon doesn't have a true backup point guard at his disposal -- Morsell and Huerter have done it in the past, but that's not their game -- and Cowan does so many things well that it's hard to take him off the court if he's not fatigued. 

Cowan kept the Terps in the game early with 11 first-half points when Huerter was on the bench with two fouls. He also held Penn State's Shep Garner -- who averages 11.3 points per contest and is a 40.7 percent 3-point shooter -- to three points. Cowan dished out four assists for good measure.

Neither Turgeon nor Cowan foresee an issue for the point guard with a quick turnaround. The Terps play at Michigan State, the new No. 1 in the polls, Jan. 4.

"I'm going to ice up, get a massage [Jan. 3]," Cowan quipped. "I'll be alright, just get ready for Thursday." 

4. Penn State head coach Pat Chambers wasn't happy about the 34-4 free throw disparity.

Maryland took 34 foul shots, including 24 in the second half alone. Cowan, Huerter and Morsell all took the ball to the rim throughout the game and were rewarded for their aggressiveness, though Morsell and Huerter both appeared to benefit from one marginal call apiece in the second half.

By contrast, Tony Carr, Mike Watkins and Stevens combined for 35 two-point attempts and four free throws.

"I mean, it's a big discrepancy," Chambers said. "It wasn't like we didn't drive the basketball. We did. But hey, they didn't see fouls. That's a good officiating crew. It's unlucky for us. They've got a home-court advantage here. I don't know if that influenced it at all, but 34 free throws versus four, it's tough to swallow, because I think we played some really good basketball."

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox