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3-point shots: Observations and opinions from Maryland's win over UMBC

In his first season at Maryland in 2011-2012, Mark Turgeon was often brutally honest in assessing his team’s performance, especially when the Terps played poorly.

While boosters were taken aback by some of the things Turgeon would say, it seemed refreshing for a college coach to offer such enlightening post-game remarks.

His opening statement after his team’s sloppy 66-45 win over UMBC Friday at Xfinity Center was a reminder of the old Turgeon. Just like the 18-point, 10-turnover first half harkened back to the days of James Padgett.

Or was that James Naismith?

“The first half — I’ve been doing this a long time — it was one of the worst halves one of my teams have ever played,” Turgeon said after his 400th victory in 20 seasons as a Division I coach, his 150th win at Maryland.

Though Turgeon said he believes the second half was more representative of what the Terps will do the rest of the season, their lack of preparedness and competitiveness in the first 20 minutes was scary.

As Maryland heads back into Big Ten play Tuesday against Penn State, here are some observations and opinions from the team’s final non-conference game of the season.

Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan are clearly the leaders of this team.

Going into the season, Turgeon and his players said that filling the scoring void left by Melo Trimble would be a collective effort among the three sophomores who started last season.

That trio of Huerter, Cowan and Justin Jackson is now down to the two guards after the announcement Thursday of the Canadian forward’s season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum.

While Jackson struggled offensively this season before being shut down, Huerter and Cowan have showed themselves capable leading Maryland’s offense.

In the win over UMBC, Huerter (20 points) and Cowan (14) combined for more than half their team’s production, including 27 of Maryland’s 48 second-half points to help erase a six-point halftime deficit.

But will they be enough to make the Terps competitive in the Big Ten?

While Trimble’s quiet leadership was sometimes called into question, it was enough to help Maryland win 75 games in his career and go to three straight NCAA tournaments.

The team’s two returning seniors, center Michal Cekovsky and Jared Nickens, as well as redshirt juniors Dion Wiley and Ivan Bender, are not consistent enough at either end — or loud enough — to be leaders.

Another player who could have helped in that department, graduate transfer Sean Obi, has barely been used all season. He is getting a little more than five minutes a game and hasn’t been used in four games, including Friday.

Turgeon might be forced to play Cekovsky and Bruno Fernando in tandem.

Even before Fernando arrived last summer, many projected the 6-foot-10 Angolan more as a power forward than a center. Many believed he would be used alongside the 7-foot-1 Cekovsky, pushing Jackson to small forward.

Partly because of Cekovsky’s slow off-season recovery from a broken ankle, Turgeon had Fernando playing center in preseason workouts.

Then Fernando’s own progress was hindered when he suffered a high ankle sprain and missed more than three weeks of practice. His ankle sprain earlier this month didn’t help.

Now with Jackson out and Bender possibly sidelined after coming out of Friday’s game with an apparent knee injury, Turgeon could be down to just one true power forward, little-used redshirt freshmen Joshua Tomaic.

Unless Turgeon thinks he can get away with playing Nickens or Wiley at power forward, he’s going to have to get Fernando back up to speed at a position he did play at times in high school, when he showed an ability to hit from the perimeter.

Even if Bender’s injury is less serious than it appeared when he was helped off the court, Fernando has a much bigger upside and gives the Terps the kind of combination Purdue had when it used Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas together during Swanigan’s two seasons.

The last five games of the non-conference schedule did little to prepare Maryland for going back into the Big Ten.

After Maryland’s fortunate escape from Illinois with a 92-91 overtime victory back on Dec. 3, the Terps had nearly a month to work on their deficiencies before jumping back into conference play next week.

While most Big Ten teams played a Top 25 non-conference opponent this season, Maryland’s highest-rated opponents were Butler (44), Syracuse (47) and St. Bonaventure (57).

Since the Illinois game, the Terps played Ohio (155), Gardner-Webb (264), Catholic (a Division III team), Fairleigh Dickinson (274) and UMBC (198).

Sitting out several players because of injury and illness — Cekovsky missed one game, Fernando and Wiley sat out two and Jackson was sidelined for three before being shut down — didn’t help.

Though Tugeon has often used practice time in mid and late December to get ready for conference play, the lack of competition since Maryland’s last league game might have caused the Terps to regress.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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