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No. 17 Maryland faces biggest test in No. 23 Purdue, Caleb Swanigan

Maryland Terps basketball coach Mark Turgeon talks about facing the Purdue Boilermakers. (Baltimore Sun video)

COLLEGE PARK — In more ways than one, it's fair to say that No. 23 Purdue is the biggest challenge of the season for No. 17 Maryland.

Start with the ranking. The Boilermakers, who visit Xfinity Center on Saturday, are the first top-25 team the Terps will face this season.

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Then comes Purdue's massive frontcourt, which features sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan and junior center Isaac Haas.

While the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan has gone by the nickname "Biggie" since he was a 400-pound 13-year-old, the 7-2, 290-pound Haas makes everyone look small.

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Asked about the fact that his team has yet to play a ranked team, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said before practice Friday, "We don't make anything of it. Purdue is one heck of a basketball team. We've played a lot of really good teams, but they're probably the best team we've played."

Said freshman forward Justin Jackson, who is coming off a 22-point, career-high 12-rebound game in Tuesday's 77-71 win at Ohio State, "I feel like every opponent's the same. You've got to come out with the same energy, the same effort, the same mindset. It doesn't matter who you're playing, or where you're playing."

Turgeon is more concerned with the combination of Swanigan's dominance, Purdue's size and its perimeter game.

"Swanigan's shooting the ball so well; he's 50 percent from 3 in the  league, which is phenomenal. So, that creates problems right there that you have to get out and guard him," Turgeon said. "When he's in the low post at [power forward], that could be a tough matchup.

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"When [Swanigan and Haas are] in together, they both go so hard to rebound. They're good players, a good team. It creates problems. Then they go small and they can spread the floor and drive a little bit more and space a little bit better. … Offensively, they're very difficult to guard."

Purdue (18-5, 7-3 Big Ten) leads the conference in scoring margin (16.1 points per game), 3-point shooting (42.4 percent) and assists (19.6 per game). Swanigan leads the league in rebounding (12.9 per game) and is second in scoring (18.8 points per game) and has 19 double-doubles, including five in a row.

"They do a great job, and they've put together almost like the perfect team," Turgeon said. "They have two really, really good low post players and they have really four guys on the floor all the time that can shoot 3. They have [five] guys that are shooting 39 percent or better from 3.

"You've got to pick your poison and hope it works in the game. They're hard to play one-on-one down there and if you double them up, it frees shots for shooters. They've seen every defense you can possibly see. Matt [Painter] does a great job with his team. It's different. They're as balanced as any team we'll see all year."

Yet the Boilermakers have not been nearly as good a road team as they have been in West Lafayette, Ind. Two of Purdue's Big Ten losses have come on the road – at Iowa and Nebraska.

The Boilermakers are 3-2 against Top 25 teams. Outside the conference, they lost at home to then-No. 3 Villanova on Nov. 14, and at then-No. 14 Louisville in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 30, before beating then-No. 21 Notre Dame in Indianapolis on Dec. 17. In the conference, they beat two ranked teams at home -- then-No. 13 Wisconsin on Jan. 8 and No. 25 Northwestern on Wednesday.

Turgeon said he is not going to change what has worked during what is now a seven-game Big Ten winning streak (8-1 overall) and what is now a 20-2 start, the best in school history.

"We're just going to do what we do," Turgeon said. "We are who we are, it's our team and we're going to play the game the way we play it. We'll see if it's good enough to win. I always sub to what I'm doing, not what the other team is doing. If I get caught up in what the other team is doing all the time, then you screw up what your own team is doing."

Jackson, who had his first two career double-doubles in Maryland's past two games, should be able to create his own matchup problems against Swanigan, who is at best an average defender and not nearly as quick as the 6-7, 225-pound Canadian.

"He's a great player," Jackson said of Swanigan. "I've seen his highlights all on TV and everything like that. Like [assistant] coach [Dustin] Clark always said, 'You've got to take on the challenge and just be ready.'"

Note: Turgeon and his staff will be wearing special pins Saturday to raise awareness for autism. The weekend has been deemed Coaches Powering Forward for Autism weekend by Autism Speaks. Junior center Michal Cekovsky's older brother, Martin, is autistic.

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