Maryland men look to next year and the experience their freshmen gained as starters

Terps men look to next year and the experience their freshmen gained as starters.

A year ago, the Maryland men's basketball team seemed to be starting over after a 27-9 season that ended with a loss to top-seed Kansas in the program's first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2003.

At the time, there was the possibility that all five starters — seniors Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon, redshirt junior Robert Carter Jr., sophomore Melo Trimble and freshman Diamond Stone — would leave to start their professional careers.

Of the three players with remaining eligibility, only Trimble returned.

Now, as coach Mark Turgeon and the Terps contemplate the end of a 24-9 season that wrapped up with a 76-65 loss to No. 11 seed Xavier on Thursday in the Round of 64, Maryland seems to be building for the future.

There's the possibility of four starters — freshmen Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson as well as Trimble — returning next season. A lot depends on what the 6-3 junior guard decides to do.

Only two seniors, starting center Damonte Dodd and reserve forward L.G. Gill, have run out of eligibility.

"The experience that our freshmen had this year is amazing," Turgeon said. "Say it was Melo's team, because it was, but these three guys, what they had on their plate.

"We're going to step back in about a week and it will be like, 'Wow, it was incredible what these three guys just did.' Right now it's hard because we didn't finish the season like we wanted to do."

On a night when Trimble struggled again with his shooting, finishing five of 15 overall and one of nine on 3-pointers, Huerter and Jackson kept the Terps competitive until the Musketeers overcame a six-point deficit early in the second half and took over with a 21-4 run.

Huerter followed a 19-point, four-assist, four-rebound performance against Northwestern in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal round loss at the Verizon Center — a game in which the Wildcats overcame a 10-point deficit with a 20-2 run — with a 19-point, five-assist, four-rebound performance against the Musketeers.

Jackson, who came into Thursday's game in an offensive funk after scoring in double figures just twice in the team's last eight games, helped the Terps overcome an eight-point deficit in the first half to build a 46-40 lead early in the second half. He finished with 14 points.

Only Cowan struggled against the physicality of Xavier's bigger guards, scoring just four points and "getting swallowed up a little bit," according to Turgeon, in the defensive switches on ball screens that helped free up Trevon Bluiett, the Musketeers' star junior guard, to score 18 of his game-high 21 points in the second half.

Asked why he kept Cowan on the bench for long stretches in the second half, Turgeon tried to deflect some of the criticism for taking him out by talking about the 6-foot, 170-pound point guard's tenacity, saying, "What a great year he had. ... I was trying to play big guards, but we didn't have enough depth tonight."

When Trimble was told that Jackson and the other two freshmen felt they needed to apologize to him for not producing enough to support the two-time All-Big Ten player, Trimble said, "They don't need to do that. They did enough for us this season. They got us to where we are now."

Turgeon conceded that the minutes the three freshmen logged over the course of the season — Huerter's 29.4 average was second to Trimble's 32.1, with Cowan's 29.0 and Jackson's 27.8 close behind — probably took their toll as Maryland lost seven of its last 11 games after a school record 20-2 start.

"We just didn't have it in us anymore," Turgeon said "Maybe it was just they had to play so many minutes and they didn't have the experience around them to help them. Those guys were terrific. I'm really proud of them. Had great years, 24 wins and playing the minutes they played was pretty special."

Though Trimble's decision whether or not to play his senior year will certainly impact next season, the Terps should be a deeper, more athletic team than they've been the past two years.

Along with redshirt freshmen Joshua Tomaic and Micah Thomas, the Terps will add two four-star prospects in power forward Bruno Fernando and combo guard Darryl Morsell (Mount St. Joseph).

"The guys coming back have got to keep working and the guys coming in have got to keep working," Trimble said.

All three of this year's freshmen helped Maryland overcome the early and late-season injuries to junior center Michal Cekovsky, whose broken ankle came as the Terps were facing the most daunting part of their schedule.

Jackson's 10.5 points were second to Trimble in scoring, while his six rebounds and 43.8 percent 3-point shooting led Maryland. Cowan averaged 10.3 points and tied Trimble with a team-high 3.7 assists. Huerter averaged 9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

"Whatever we started — 20-2 — and obviously we didn't finish the season the way we wanted to, but I think a lot of guys grew over the course of the season and obviously we're looking forward to next year and the guys we have back," Huerter said.

Said Jackson, "There's definitely positives to everything you do. At the end of the day, I just feel like we've got to focus more on the positive. We've got a lot of guys coming back next year. Just got to get back to work."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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