The best way to slow down a team that likes to run is by hitting a lot of shots — there’s something about the way the ball trickles through the net rather than clanking off the rim.
Bucknell used that strategy to near perfection in the first half Saturday, shooting its way to a 15-point halftime lead by making 20 of 31 shots, including seven of 10 3-pointers.
That’s when Maryland freshman guard Darryl Morsell took over.
Looking like the second coming of former Terps star Dez Wells, the former Mount Saint Joseph standout carried Maryland to an 80-78 victory before an announced crowd of 14,841 at Xfinity Center.
Morsell scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half. Sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. led Maryland (4-0) in scoring for the fourth straight game with 17 points while adding five assists and four rebounds.
Sophomore wing Kevin Huerter finished with 16 points before limping off after cramping up when coming down with a rebound in the final minute, and freshman center Bruno Fernando had 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Justin Jackson added seven points and 10 rebounds.
Inserted in the second-half starting lineup, Morsell scored eight of his team’s first 10 points out of the break and at one juncture had outscored Bucknell 11-9 in the second half.
“It was kind of evident that somebody needed to pick us up as a team," Morsell said. “The ball just fell my way a lot in the second half and I felt that I could make plays and I just went out and made the plays in order to help this team win.”
Said Cowan: “Darryl really changed the game when he came in. Like he’s a very intense player; so is Bruno. When they’re both in the game, that kind of boosts everybody’s spirits a little bit, makes everybody play a little harder.”
Coming off a 14-point win over Butler on Wednesday night — the third straight double-digit victory to start the 2017-18 season — Maryland couldn’t get its transition into even first gear until the second half.
It appeared that the Terps had clinched victory with a pair of free throws by Cowan with 4.7 seconds left. But a 3-pointer by Bucknell senior guard Stephen Brown (game-high 23 points) cut the deficit to two.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Morsell was called for a player control foul, giving the ball back to the Bison (0-4). A play was designed for senior forward Zach Thomas, but he shot too late and was way short, as the Terps escaped with the win.
“With 0.5 [of a second] I thought I could get it off,” said Thomas, the former Frederick County star at Oakdale High who finished with 17 points. “I just let it go quickly as soon as I caught it. Whether they started the clock early or not, I missed it either way. It doesn’t really matter.”
Asked whether Maryland’s comeback was more because of its defense or the Bison missing shots — including 11 of 14 of its second-half 3-pointers — Thomas said: “I think mainly on us. They stepped it up with the intensity a little bit, but we didn’t run through our sets like we did in the first half. That led to easy stops for them, which led to easy points in transition and kind of got them going a little bit.”
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon put his team’s lackluster first half on himself.
“I didn’t coach very well in the first half,” said Turgeon, whose Terps shot 13-for-32 in the opening half, including 0-for-5 on 3-pointers to go with eight turnovers. “Our scouting report preparing our guys was not very good. And that’s on me. We changed everything in the second half. We guarded everything much more aggressively, and that’s who we are. We changed our offense — really something we haven't practiced, to be honest with you, but it worked for us.”
The biggest change was putting Morsell into the lineup that started the second half, and keeping Morsell and Fernando in for long stretches with Cowan, Huerter and Jackson.
“I was just trying to play our best players and get the best matchups,” Turgeon said.
Jackson comes alive — a little
Jackson, who considered leaving for the NBA after his freshman year and has been consistently mentioned as a potential high lottery pick in next year’s draft, appeared to be pressing offensively against Bucknell.
While he grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds in the season opener against Stony Brook, and played good defense and continued to rebound against Butler, Jackson’s offensive game has mostly disappeared through the team’s first four games.
Jackson scored 11 points in the opener on 4-for-11 shooting, finished with just eight on 3-for-8 shooting against UMES and had just four on 2-for-4 shooting against Butler. But the struggle might have ended in the second half, when Jackson scored two critical baskets in Maryland’s comeback.
After missing his first six shots Saturday, Jackson scored on a dunk early in the second half, hit his first 3-pointer of the season after nine straight misses to give Maryland a 71-68 lead. After a basket by Nana Foulland cut it back to one, Jackson followed in his own miss.
Turgeon said he met with Jackson before the game Saturday.
“We were watching film together,” Turgeon said. “I told him, ‘When you haven’t been scoring, you’ve continued to rebound and defend. That’s a sign of maturity. Just do the best you can and go as hard as you can.’ And he made two big-time plays. He hit the 3 and got the offensive rebound plus putback, so he looked like Justin on those plays. Hopefully moving moving forward he’ll play with with a bit more confidence.”
Cekovsky barely plays
Senior center Michal Cekovsky, who had played well since coming back from major surgery on his broken ankle, was used sparingly Saturday while battling strep throat.
Cekovsky played a couple of minutes in the first half after Maryland was being schooled inside by Foulland, but was ineffective.
“I gave him a minute so; he said he wanted to try,” said Turgeon, adding that Cekovsky had just started on a round of antibiotics to fight the infection.
It is not known whether he will play Monday night against Jackson State.