Anthony Cowan Jr. scored a season-low nine points Wednesday against Notre Dame and the Terps still won easily. Here are three takeaways from Maryland’s 72-51 win over Notre Dame in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Terps showed that they can adjust without a big-scoring game from their leading scorer.
It’s not that Maryland has never won on a night when senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. wasn’t a major part of the team’s offense. A year ago, the Terps were 3-1 in the games when Cowan failed to reach double-digits, including a 79-77 win over Belmont in the NCAA tournament. That night, Mark Turgeon’s team nearly won in spite of Cowan, who finished with nine points on 3-of-18 shooting.
Against the Fighting Irish, whose game plan was clearly focused on shutting down Cowan by often throwing an extra defender at him to limit his touches or his ability to drive, the rest of Maryland’s starters and even some of its bench players were looking to score as much or more than Cowan, especially in the first half when the Terps started to break open the game.
Cowan took just two shots in the opening half, missing an early 3-pointer and scoring on a breakaway layup off a nice feed from sophomore guard Serrel Smith Jr. It didn’t matter as Maryland overcame missing its first 10 3-pointers by attacking the basket and building a 12-point lead by halftime. The other four starters all took more shots than Cowan in the half.
“If you would have told me he’d had nine, I thought we would be in better shape,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said afterwards. “But everybody else kicked our butt.”
Though he looked for his shot more in the second half, missing five of the seven he tried, Cowan didn’t force things as he has done in the past when he’s been accused of padding his stats by scoring a bunch of moot points after the game was decided. That happened in a couple of games Maryland lost last season, including at Penn State and against Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament.
But as long as the Terps play inside-out, which they seem to be doing more as the season goes on, and players such as sophomore guard Eric Ayala and junior Darryl Morsell play as they have, opposing teams will have trouble coming up with a game plan to stop Cowan. And as long as Cowan keeps playing unselfishly, and doesn’t get frustrated on nights when his shot isn’t falling and starts forcing things, Maryland should keep winning.
Stix is picking up where Bruno Fernando left off when it comes to double-doubles.
Admittedly, sophomore forward Jalen “Stix” Smith didn’t have a great night offensively. He missed a few shots inside and still seems a bit hesitant playing against bigger bodies by putting the ball on the floor and double or triple pumping rather than going straight up for a dunk or a layup. Still more a finesse player at times despite the added weight and muscle, Smith freely says he has “another level” to take his game.
On the defensive side, Smith has taken significant strides both with his shot-blocking and rebounding, using his length and quickness to become a dominant player at that end of the court. He did it in Sunday’s championship game when he blocked Marquette’s big man, 6-9, 255-pound junior Theo John, the first two times John went up for dunks. He did it again Wednesday against Notre Dame.
By the time he was finished, Smith had his fifth double-double of the season, equaling the number in just nine games that he had in 35 games as a freshman. He wound up with 15 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and five blocked shots against the Fighting Irish, tying the career-high he set last season in the NCAA second-round loss to LSU.
If the 6-10, 225-pound Smith keeps playing this way, he should come close to Fernando’s 22 double-doubles last season, which tied Len Elmore for the second most in school history and ranked second in the country. Smith’s stats so far — 13.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots a game — mirrors what Fernando did a year ago, when he averaged 13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
That Smith shot 2-of-3 on 3-pointers against Notre Dame after missing his first 10 this season and 13-of-15 in the first eight games should also help both his confidence and the way opposing teams have to defend him. But the player who helped carry the Terps in last year’s NCAA tournament — when he averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots — has taken it to another level.
The scary thing is that Stix can get better even before his college career is over, whenever that may be.
Ricky Lindo Jr. is getting lost in the big man shuffle.
After not playing in Sunday’s game against Marquette, and a total of eight minutes in the first two games in Orlando, the 6-8 sophomore forward came in with 8:28 left in the first half against Notre Dame and Maryland trailing, 13-11. A little more than a minute later, Lindo made a tough drive down the lane and scored, then immediately showed some energy at the other end by flying in to get the rebound off a missed 3-pointer.
Twenty seconds after getting the rebound, Lindo was substituted out of the game. He never returned.
It would be one thing if Lindo wasn’t getting on the court during close games despite Mark Turgeon saying that the last player he signed to the 2018 recruiting might have the biggest jump since his arrival. That Lindo isn’t playing in blowouts is a sign that something is amiss, and the body language he showed after being pulled Wednesday is an indication that the unhappiness goes both ways.
The addition of the Mitchell twins, who play with the kind of physicality Maryland will need to back up Smith once the Big Ten season starts Saturday against Illinois, has certainly cut into Lindo’s playing time. And if 7-2 freshman center Chol Marial can get healthy enough to get on the court for games later this month or in early in January, Lindo might have to wait until next season to finally get some consistent minutes.
It’s a little reminiscent of what happened to Michal Cekovsky. After showing flashes of being a productive player as a freshman, including shutting down All-American and Big Ten player of the year Frank Kaminsky in an upset of the No. 5 Badgers in 2014-15, the arrival of Diamond Stone the following season and Cekovsky’s inconsistent work ethic — something that has plagued Lindo — led to him barely playing as a sophomore.
After that, injuries curtailed what had been a promising career.
Given his length inside and versatility as a decent 3-point shooter, Lindo has perhaps even more potential than the 7-foot Cekovsky. And, at some point, Turgeon might need him, whether it’s this year if Marial can’t stay healthy enough to play — given his history the jury is still out on that ― or next year if Smith decides to turn pro as Fernando did.
Turgeon’s apparent lack of confidence in Lindo is certainly not good for a player who Turgeon has said gets down on himself quicker more than anyone on the team. And unless the Terps continue to play in a bunch of one-sided games as they have in their last two, it seems doubtful that there will be enough opportunities outside of practice for that or Lindo’s playing time to change.