The Maryland men's basketball team lost to No. 3 Purdue, 75-67, in West Lafayette, Ind., Jan. 31. The Terps fell to 15-9 overall and 4-7 in Big Ten play. Here are four observations on the loss:
1. If senior center Michal Cekovsky misses more time, how will Maryland adjust?
The Terps announced less than an hour before tip-off that Cekovsky injured his heel in practice Jan. 30 and didn't make the trip to Purdue, which struck a blow to Maryland's already thin margin of error against the Boilermakers. The Terps needed all the help they could muster against massive, skilled centers Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms, but were down to three true big men -- freshman Bruno Fernando, redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic and senior Sean Obi.
Without Cekovsky available to play power forward -- which he's done a lot since sophomore forward Justin Jackson was shut down for the year -- Terps head coach Mark Turgeon opted to play small ball, starting freshman guard Darryl Morsell at the four and asking him to guard Purdue senior forward Vincent Edwards. Turgeon played four guards for most of the contest, though he didn't have much of a choice; Tomaic was ineffective, Obi fouled out in seven minutes and Fernando got into foul trouble.
Though the small-ball lineup was effective on the offensive end during the second half, it predictably struggled to contain Purdue's unique size on the other end. Haas scored 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while Haarms added eight points. Maryland had no answer for the pair; they were too good for Obi and Tomaic, while Fernando had to be careful defensively considering the Terps' frontcourt depth.
Purdue finding Haas for a post touch and easy score on its first possession was an indication of how the game would go.
It'd be helpful to have Cekovsky available against Wisconsin center Ethan Happ Feb. 4, though the extent of Cekovsky's heel injury is to be determined.
Cekovsky has an unfortunate injury history
; he missed time during four different stretches last year.
2. Fernando had a double-double and was particularly good during the second half.
The best way for Maryland to handle a potential loss of Cekovsky would be for Fernando to play like he did Jan. 31, when he scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds. It was his second double-double of the season, with his first coming against Penn State Jan. 2. Fernando's performance against the Boilermakers represented a bounce-back effort; he totaled 19 points during the previous five games.
Fernando found a rhythm working against Purdue's big men in the second half, getting to the line after creating contact against Haas, Haarms and Edwards on separate occasions in the second half. He also made an
NBA-style pull-up jumper
from about 19 feet in the first half.
Fernando shows inconsistencies typical of a freshman big man -- he's still learning how to defend without fouling, still refining his post moves against quality big men and still looking to expand his offensive game a bit -- but his pro prospects are obvious during a performance like the one he put on Jan. 31. He's big, strong, tough and physical; he can score inside and shoot out to 20 feet, and he can jump through the gym.
Fernando will have a decision to make after the season is over.
3. Morsell made a couple mid-range jumpers, which is a really good sign.
Fernando wasn't the only freshman to play well. Morsell scored 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out two assists. Efficient scoring nights have been tough to come by at times for the Mount St. Joseph graduate, who's struggled with his outside shot and with finishing over Big Ten bodies near the rim.
Though Morsell has only made three 3-pointers all year -- and has been visibly frustrated at times when those shots don't fall -- the 3-point line might not necessarily have to be the key to unlocking cleaner driving lanes; it could be a mid-range game. Morsell made two outside shots from inside the 3-point line in the second half Jan. 31, a new wrinkle to his game.
Morsell has typically shied away from shooting much from the outside, instead preferring to drive, which is his strength offensively. Opponents, in turn, wait for Morsell in the paint, though he's made a habit of flashing his high-end athleticism to score inside or create contact regardless. A competent mid-range game would make it harder for opponents to sag off Morsell and give him a little more daylight to drive. A pull-up jumper from about 12 feet when nothing else is available on a drive wouldn't hurt Morsell, either.
Morsell is shooting 73.6 percent from the free-throw line for the year, an indication he isn't nearly as bad of a shooter as his 13.6 percent 3-point percentage indicates.
4. The Terps might have no margin for error left.
Though Maryland outscored Purdue, 43-40, in the second half and played solid offensively -- three Kevin Huerter 3-pointers in rapid fire fashion was the big highlight -- a moral victory doesn't register on Selection Sunday.
The Terps now have seven regular-season games remaining, with four coming at Xfinity Center. Just two of those games (at Nebraska Feb. 13 and home against Michigan Feb. 24) look like resume-boosting opportunities. Considering that the Big Ten has seen finer days, Maryland might have to run the table -- which would put them at 11-7 in the league -- to be in the conversation March 11.
That's a challenging task for an injury-riddled team.