The Maryland Terrapins have had a rough go of things over the last three days, blowing a 12 point lead at home against Purdue and then playing their worst game of the season in a loss at Penn State Tuesday night. But there is still no reason for Maryland fans to panic.
The Purdue loss was eerily similar to the Nebraska loss way back on January 1, both just very rare total collapses. Maryland allowed Nebraska to finish that game on a 14-0 run and didn’t score in the final 4 minutes of the game and Saturday’s Purdue loss saw Maryland fail to score a field goal in the games final 7:38.
Maryland then shot just 33 percent from the floor during Tuesday night’s loss to Penn State and were just 7-26 from deep. But still after all of that, there is plenty of positives to take away from this team to this point.
The Terrapins are an extremely young team that starts three talented freshmen in Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, and Justin Jackson. Those three have helped take an immense amount of pressure of Melo Trimble, who will be a first team All-Big Ten, but they are still freshmen and won’t be perfect every night. They all struggled in the second half of the Purdue loss, but Huerter and Jackson were the brightest in the Penn State loss.
Huerter is emerging as an elite three point shooter, knocking down 44 percent of his threes in conference play. Justin Jackson leads the Terps in rebounding as a small forward and can go for 20 on any given night. Cowan has had an extremely rough five game stretch, scoring just 5.6 points and shooting 22 percent from the floor, but before that was a slashing scorer and starting to knock down jump shots. When he turns it around, Maryland will be back to beating teams.
Right now Maryland’s biggest inconsistency is at the center position. Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekovsky, and Ivan Bender are all playing significant minutes, but nobody has stepped up to be “the guy.” Cekovsky is probably the best of the three, but missed 10 games due to injury, meaning he isn’t as seasoned as he should be this late in the year. He played spectacularly in the Purdue loss, scoring 10 and blocking 6 shots, but was a complete non-factor in the Penn State loss, playing in just 8 minutes.
Dodd’s play has also been limited as he has picked up at least 4 fouls in 6 of his last 8 games. He should be Maryland’s strongest rebounder and would lead the team if he could stay out of foul trouble. Bender at times has looked great, like scoring critical buckets in the Iowa game and grabbing 8 boards, but also has been a non-factor in key moments of some games like missing a wide open layup in the Penn State loss.
If I am Mark Turgeon, I am looking for Cekovsky to really elevate his game in the final 4 weeks of the regular season. They desperately need one of the three bigs to take charge and he Cekovsky should be the guy to do it. But Turgeon needs to give him the chance to be that guy, meaning playing Dodd and Bender less and less.
BUT here is why Maryland fans should still feel okay about where they stand, Melo Trimble. The guy is a born leader and will continue to be all season, even when things aren’t going his way. He just needs to be able to slow the game down at times when his head is telling him to just run and drive. He does draw a lot of fouls, but that mentality sometimes has him taking some wild shot attempts when he doesn’t draw the fouls. He is learning that he has Jackson and Huerter to kick the ball out to for triples, allowing him to be a more balanced point guard. If he can let the game come to him, Maryland has a much better chance of winning every night.
The team is still figuring some things out on offense, but the back-to-back losses should serve as a wake up call and propel this team to turn things around in the final 7 games of the season. They get Ohio State on Saturday before a tough road trip to Wisconsin and Northwestern. They are in fine shape to get a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament, all they need is a good win over Ohio State to regain the confidence they had during the 7 game win streak.