The Maryland men's basketball team defeated Minnesota, 77-66, Jan. 18. The Terps improved to 15-6 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. Here are four observations on the win:
1. Maryland badly needed a win at home to bounce back from a tough road loss.
Terps sophomore Anthony Cowan Jr. didn't mince words about how his team felt right after a potential road win at Michigan -- which would've been a huge boost to his injury-riddled team's NCAA Tournament chances -- slipped through their fingers Jan. 15.
"I think after the game, we all just sat there for like 20 minutes just in shock, just kind of irritated about it," Cowan recalled after his team beat Minnesota. "But Coach [Mark Turgeon] really made sure to tell us that we had to leave that game behind and move on. I think we really locked in on the Minnesota game plan and came out with the win."
Not only did the Terps get the win, but they put together the businesslike performance needed to wash away the Michigan loss.
Sophomore Kevin Huerter (19 points), senior Michal Cekovsky (17), Cowan (15) and freshman Darryl Morsell (13) all scored in double figures, providing balanced scoring that's been lacking when the Terps play on the road. Maryland also had assists on 18 of 25 made baskets during the contest -- and 12 of 13 in the second half -- by finding open shooters beyond the 3-point line and big men for easy dunks.
Maryland held the Gophers to 35.9 percent shooting for the game, as Minnesota's top three players -- Jordan Murphy, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer -- combined to go 15-for-45 from the field. Murphy was guarded by Cekovsky for much of the game; Mason, by Cowan; and McBrayer, by Morsell.
With 10 regular-season games remaining, tournament resumes are coming into focus and chances to add to them are dwindling. The victory against Minnesota vaulted the Terps back to .500 in the league with chances to score big wins at Indiana Jan. 22 and against Michigan State Jan. 28.
"I can't force [my players] to block it out. I tell them to stay off of social media and they can't. I'm old, so I'm able to do it," Turgeon said of NCAA tournament speculation. "The only thing that matters to me is what I say and what we're doing. The great thing for us is we've got an unbelievably hard schedule, which means we're playing good teams, which gives us opportunity to beat teams that'll be in the tournament."
2. A Cekovsky-led 21-2 run in the second half was the difference in the game.
The Terps looked like they might seize control of the game late in the first half. Up 29-21 with fewer than three minutes to play in the half, they had a chance to enter halftime with a double-digit lead. But Minnesota went on a 7-0 run to finish the half to cut its deficit to one.
Maryland's run to take control of the contest occurred early in the second half. The Terps turned a 32-29 deficit into a 50-34 lead over about six minutes. The run started when Huerter tied the score with a 3-pointer, but mostly featured Cekovsky, who scored 10 points during the run. Eight of those points came via dunks and the other two points came at the free throw line.
"It was something that we picked up once the game started. We know that play [is] tough to guard," Huerter said. "But running it so many times, we know that you make the guard on the weak side make a choice. He's either got to guard Ceko on the roll or he's got to guard the guy on the 3-point line. We know that just from doing it in practice. And so coming off the ball screens, they kind of always just let Ceko roll to the rim, and he's big and athletic -- it makes it really easy for the guards to kind of throw it up in the air around the backboard, and he'll go catch it."
3. Redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic helped make up for an ineffective Bruno Fernando.
Freshman Fernando picked up his first foul less than two minutes into the game and his second less than nine minutes in, which relegated him to the bench for the balance of the half. Fernando then picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second half and sat for almost the remainder of the game.
Fernando didn't have his usual energy; in fact, he was a step slow when he was forced to commit his second foul -- he was beaten off the dribble on the perimeter. It's the third such game that Fernando hasn't had his usual zip. Fernando played 16 minutes at Ohio State Jan. 11, 18 minutes at Michigan and nine against Minnesota. Turgeon said after the contest against the Buckeyes that Fernando was on antibiotics, indicating he's been sick recently.
Available frontcourt minutes given Fernando's foul trouble Jan. 18 fell to Tomaic, who took advantage of the opportunity. Tomaic scored seven points,
including a 3-pointer
. Tomaic was integrated into Turgeon's rotation after junior Ivan Bender suffered a torn meniscus Dec. 29, but his 25 minutes against Minnesota were a season high.
"I'm really proud of Josh, how he improved, how he's growing as a player," Cekovsky said. "This is a great opportunity for him. When [sophomore Justin Jackson and Bender] went down, it's his position, and he really grew as a player. So I'm really proud of him."
The 6-foot-9 forward showed a variety of skills Jan. 18 between his shot (he's now 6-for-12 from long range this season), his ball-handling (he drove the baseline and fed Cekovsky for a dunk in the second half) and his activity defensively (he's mobile enough to hedge far on ball screens and recover).
"He's got some guard skills to him," Turgeon said. "He's getting confident. The whole thing is defensively whether he can do it. Bruno in foul trouble all night, it was good that Josh came in and played well for us."
4. Huerter is creating from everywhere.
Last year, 66.3 percent of Huerter's shots were 3-pointers, and he only shot 28 free throws -- numbers that were too high and low, respectively, for such a talented all-around player. But this year, only 58.5 percent of Huerter's shots are 3-pointers and he's already shot 51 free throws, numbers more in line with his skill set.
Huerter is also one of Turgeon's two primary recipients of ball screens, and he had five assists -- mostly off ball screens -- Jan. 18.
"I think it makes it easier on everyone else, teams not just trying to take away a 3-point shot," Huerter said. "[Minnesota] played different than a lot of teams have been playing. A lot of teams when myself or Anthony kind of were coming off ball screens, they're making us give it up right away. … Their big guys were kind of dropping and sagging and letting us throw a lob in there. Coach Turgeon put me in a good position. We were really running the same play over and over again in the second half and it kind of kept working."