Like Halley’s Comet or a partial lunar eclipse, a rare occurrence took place Saturday at Xfinity Center during the first 12 minutes of Maryland’s game against Gardner-Webb.
The Terps had committed just one turnover.
“Coach Bino [Ranson] jinxed it because he said we had one turnover at that time and we had more [in the first half] after that,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon joked later.
While the second turnover, a little over 13 minutes into the first half, started a spate of three in five possessions, Maryland seemed more under control during its 82-60 victory.
Averaging a Big Ten-worst 17.2 turnovers per game, the Terps wound up with six at halftime and 11 for the game. It wasn’t their lowest number for the season — that was seven against Purdue in the Big Ten opener — but sophomore guard Kevin Huerter called it “a step in the right direction” after 44 over the two games before Saturday.
“Coach kind of got on us after our game Thursday, just saying we’ve got to get a lot better this stretch coming,” Huerter said. “He laid out a couple of things, and turnovers were one of those things we’ve got to correct if we want to be the team we think we can.”
Anticipating that the first question in his postgame news conference would be about his team’s turnover problems, Turgeon said of his players, “They’ve each got to decide they’re going to be better with the ball. I do think we’re getting a little bit more comfortable in what we’re running. Guys know where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do.”
No player had more than two turnovers, the first time this season that the Terps didn’t have at least one player with three in a game.
Maryland (9-3) shot 30-for-55 (54.5 percent) from the field, including 10-for-20 on 3-pointers. Freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) led Maryland with a career-high 18 points, while sophomore guard Kevin Huerter finished with 15 points. Senior center Michal Cekovsky had 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
“We all know that in the past, we’ve had problems with turnovers and stuff, but we don’t try and let that affect us and play conservative. We still want to be aggressive and play our game,” said Morsell, who committed two turnovers, one below his season average, in 23 minutes off the bench. “I feel like we’re building a better chemistry over time.”
With two forwards out, others step in
Not that it mattered, but Maryland went into Saturday’s game without both freshman center Bruno Fernando and sophomore forward Justin Jackson.
Fernando, who suffered a sprained right ankle in Thursday’s 87-62 victory over Ohio, was not in a boot. He even shot free throws when the team warmed up before the game against Gardner-Webb.
Jackson, who played 19 minutes Thursday despite not starting for the first time this season after leaving Wednesday’s practice early with an illness, was held out of Saturday’s game.
While Jackson is expected to recover in time for Tuesday’s game against Division III Catholic, Fernando will likely be held out at least until Dec. 21, the first game after the Terps’ nine-day break for final exams.
“Bruno’s better today than he was yesterday and I’m sure he’ll be better tomorrow,” Turgeon said. “We’re not going to rush him back for Tuesday night’s game unless he’s 100 percent. If there’s anything good about him getting hurt, it’s the timing.”
Even though the Terps barely outrebounded the smaller Runnin’ Bulldogs, 34-32, little-used redshirt freshman forward Joshua Tomaic finished with career highs of nine points, six rebounds in 16 minutes, one fewer minute than he’d played in the team’s first 11 games combined.
“I feel good, I’m thankful for that,” Tomaic said. “I just focus on trying to help the team and everything like that, hustle plays. I’m going to be ready whenever Coach calls my name. I just try to do the right things to help the team.”
Despite some early foul trouble, including a technical foul, redshirt junior forward Ivan Bender finished with four points, five rebounds, a career-high seven assists, one block and one steal in 17 minutes as a starter. Bender was often used as the facilitator in the middle of Gardner-Webb’s zone defense.
“Ivan thinks like a point guard. He’s a terrific passer,” Turgeon said. “He’s good in there [in the zone]; we’re comfortable with him in there. I thought he made quick decisions, which you’ve got to do against the zone.”
Morsell under control and over the top
Aside from a career-high scoring day, Morsell showed both his acumen and athleticism against Gardner-Webb.
The 6-foot-4 freshman took just eight shots, hitting six, and made six of his seven free throws. Even more important in terms of his role this season, Morsell also made just two turnovers in 23 minutes.
“Since the Purdue game, he’s really just tried to be Darryl,” Turgeon said Saturday.
Turgeon was alluding to the fact that Morsell took 16 shots, making just three, in an 80-75 loss to Purdue in the Big Ten opener on Dec. 1. Not that Morsell agreed with his coach completely.
Comfortable in the mid-range and around the basket, Morsell didn’t stray too far outside against Gardner-Webb’s zone. He found seams to drive, or just took it over the Runnin’ Bulldogs and dunked.
“I always stay true to myself, which is driving, getting downhill, trying to get the free-throw line,” Morsell said. “In the game, I saw a lot of opportunities to do that, so I didn’t really settle for the shot. I tried to get to the rim and make plays for my team.”
Students take a snow day
A combination of an early Saturday tipoff, inclement weather, an expected blowout over an overmatched opponent and the impending final exams made for the smallest student representation this season in an announced crowd of 12,558.
The wall behind the visitors’ basket in the second half was virtually empty.
The student section next to the court was half-filled.
Given the upcoming schedule and winter break, the crowds might not be very big (despite the announced number of tickets sold) until sometime next month.
The Terps will play their next Big Ten home game against Penn State on Jan. 2. As for home games, that will be followed by Iowa on Jan. 7 and Minnesota on Jan. 18.
Considering that Maryland lost to the Nittany Lions on the road in their only meeting last season as well as to the Hawkeyes and Gophers in College Park during their late slide in 2016-17, all three games loom large for the Terps.
Whether the Maryland students view it the same way remains to be seen.