There had been questions all season about the significant drop in sophomore forward Justin Jackson’s shooting percentage since his freshman year.
Now there appears to be an answer.
Jackson, who saw his 3-point shooting drop from a team-best 43.8 percent to 25 percent in the 11 games he played this season, will miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum, it was announced Thursday.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who made the announcement after practice in preparation of Friday’s home game against UMBC, said that the 6-foot-7 Canadian will have surgery “sometime soon.”
“We’ve known he’s been hurt for awhile. Ever since we started sitting him out, we knew he had an injury, and it was something we thought he could play through,” Turgeon said. “But we just decided over Christmas that it’s not in the best interest of Justin, and that we were going to go ahead and do the surgery.”
Turgeon said that the injury occurred before Jackson came to Maryland.
“He reaggravated it a lot this year,” Turgeon said. “He’s a tough sucker. A torn labrum is a pretty significant injury, painful, and he tried to play through it for his team.”
Jackson had missed the team’s last three games because of what was called shoulder soreness. After Jackson sat out Maryland’s 75-50 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 21, Turgeon said he didn’t think the injury was going to be long-term.
In fact, Turgeon was only waiting to get a second opinion, which in recent days confirmed the original diagnosis.
“I feel bad for him and he feels bad. He feels like he’s letting his teammates down,” Turgeon said. “That’s why he fought so hard to continue. You feel for him because it’s the best time of his life. … To get that taken away from you is tough. It’s a tough surgery. He’s got a lot ahead of him to rehab and get back to where he was.”
Said sophomore guard Kevin Huerter: “It’ll hurt. Justin’s obviously a really good guy, a well-liked player on our team. We know how much it hurts him that he can’t be out here. To be honest he hasn’t been 100 percent all year. That’s something he’s definitely been battling with, [going back to] the summer with our lifts it started bothering him. He hasn’t been the same since.”
The injury to Jackson could severely damage Maryland’s chances of making a fourth straight NCAA tournament and could affect his immediate future as a pro as well.
A first-team All-Big Ten preseason selection who was widely projected to be a near-certain first round NBA draft pick after a solid performance at last year’s NBA scouting combine, Jackson’s offensive woes this season had contributed to his stock dipping among pro scouts. He was recently mentioned as an early second-round pick by Bleacher Report.
While he was averaging just 9.8 points a game — a slight dip from last season, when he was second on the team in scoring to then-junior star Melo Trimble — Jackson was the leading rebounder (8.1) on a team that had outrebounded all but one of its opponents so far in 2017-18.
“We haven’t rebounded as well since he’s been sitting out these games,” Turgeon said. “Guys got to pick it up rebounding-wise because we were a pretty dominant rebounding team until we started sitting him out.”
Said Hueter: “Justin definitely allowed us to play a lot of different ways. Some of our best lineups were with him at the 4 [power forward], where he could take advantage of mismatch problems. But obviously we could play him at the 3 [small forward] and play bigger.”
Jackson was one of the team’s most versatile players, with the ability to play small forward and power forward, and because of his 7-3 wingspan, could also play center in a pinch against smaller teams.
“It is tough, because we set up a lot of our offense for Justin. A lot of things were playing through him,” Turgeon said. “It kind of limits us a little bit. He was strong enough to guard a 4 [power forward] in the Big Ten. It changes our dynamics, it changes a little bit how we’re going to play. We have good players, guys will have to step up.”
For the short-term, Turgeon expects to use 6-9 redshirt junior Ivan Bender, the team’s only other experienced power forward, in Jackson’s place, as well as 6-7 senior Jared Nickens, whose 56.1 percent 3-point shooting rate leads the team and is second in the Big Ten.
Depending on the opponent, there’s also a chance the Terps could play a lot of three or four-guard lineups that will push players such as 6-7 sophomore guard Kevin Huerter, 6-5 freshman guard Darryl Morsell and 6-4 senior guard Dion Wiley to defend bigger players.
“We’ll be big lineup more often than not, which means we’ll play a little bit different," Turgeon said. “If we go [to a] small lineup, it’s really small. With Justin you could still rebound with him at the 4. Now you’re talking Darryl Morsell may be guarding the 4, Kevin Huerter guarding the 4. It really changes things quite a bit.”
Said Huerter: “You always say, it’s the next man up. It’s a cliche, but it’s what’s got to happen here. We still have really high aspirations for our team no matter who we put out on the court. There’s going to be a bunch of guys that are going to get more opportunity now.”
This is the seventh time in Turgeon’s seven years that the Terps have lost either a starter or a highly valued reserve with a long-term or season-ending injury, most recently when then-junior center Michal Cekovsky suffered a broken ankle late last season that contributed to Maryland’s quick exit from both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
“Unfortunately, we’ve kind of gotten used to it at Maryland. It’s kind of like we’ve had a major injury every season since I’ve been here, guys having to sit out,” Turgeon said. “They all come at different times. The timing makes it a little more difficult. But with that said, we’ve got a lot of good players, we’ve got a lot of offense in.”