One day of preparation might have been all Maryland needed Thursday night against Ohio, though coach Mark Turgeon conceded he’s looking forward to the hours of practice time the Terps will get before Big Ten play resumes Jan. 2 against Penn State.
Though not all completely his fault — one came when he passed the ball ahead to Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) as the freshman guard fell to the court after being inadvertently tripped — Cowan knows what his role has become.
Much as former Maryland star Melo Trimble did when he was a freshman and sophomore, Cowan is also trying to find a balance between scoring and setting up his teammates.
“I think the team is best when I’m really just running the team,” Cowan said after the Ohio game. "I think scoring definitely comes in second or third. I think running the team is most important; that’s what coach wants me to do the most, just be a leader on the floor.”
Said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon: “I love the way he’s learning from film. He’s getting better, he’s getting comfortable. He’s really playing at a high level.”
Going into Saturday’s home game against Gardner-Webb, the 6-foot 170-pound sophomore from Bowie leads the Terps in scoring (16.1) and assists (4.3). Despite his size, he is third in rebounding (4.7). He is also first in steals (1.3) and turnovers (3.0).
Not only has Cowan been Maryland’s best player so far, he is arguably the player who could have the biggest impact on whether the team make its fourth straight NCAA tournament. A year ago, the Terps still had Trimble to bail them out of late shot-clock situations.
Cowan has done that a few times this season, including hitting a couple of long 3-pointers as the 30-second clock was about to expire against Butler and then scoring nine of his career-high 27 in overtime Sunday to help Maryland escape Illinois with a 92-91 victory.
“[Turgeon] just wants me to run the team, be as vocal as possible,” Cowan said Thursday. “He's big on me making the right play on offense — when someone’s open get them the ball. That’s what I tried to do tonight — make sure I made the right reads.”
That was evident against Ohio. With the Bobcats packing in their defense to cut off his driving, Cowan seemed content trying to get others involved. It helped sophomore Kevin Huerter put up 17 points and senior center Michal Cekovsky finish with a season-high 15.
“I think that’s just Anthony being unselfish, taking what the defense gives you,” Huerter said. “It seemed like today, they really packed the paint on him. He was driving and they were all collapsing on him. He was kicking out. That’s just Anthony being unselfish, not looking to chuck and score 20 a game.”
Asked about how he helped set up some open 3-pointers with an extra pass, Cowan said, “Coach is big on that. We [were] watching film and it just seemed like everyone was dribbling too much. He just emphasized the offense is a lot better when the ball is moving from side to side. That’s just what we tried to do tonight.”
It is reminiscent of what Cowan faced during his last two years of high school.
“Teams are gearing their defenses to slow him down, so in doing so, he’s more so being a facilitator and getting others involved,” his father, Anthony Sr., said Friday. “I think some of his turnovers are coming from trying to overpass the ball.”
Watching from his seat at Xfinity Center, the elder Cowan said he is seeing his son returning to the basketball roots that helped his reputation grow, first at Good Counsel as a freshman and then at St. John’s College High for three years before coming to Maryland.
“He’s still teetering right now in trying to be confident on the offensive side in terms of his shot, but then also distributing,” Anthony Sr. said. “I think he probably leans more toward distributing and facilitating, but he kind of goes into the shot mode when he feels he has to.”
Cowan did that in overtime against the Illini on Sunday in Champaign, Ill. With graduate transfer Mark Alstork helping Illinois come back from a 22-point second-half deficit to take the lead late in regulation, Cowan matched Alstork shot for shot in overtime before settling it with a free throw with less than a second left in overtime.
“I’m doing whatever my teammates need me to do,” Cowan said afterward at State Farm Center. “Some nights it’s not going to be for me to score, like the Jackson State game [when being held scoreless]. Some nights I just need to get up fewer shots. Some nights I need to establish myself as the best offensive player.”
Even though Cowan missed seven of his 10 shots against Ohio, including all four 3-point shots he tried, Turgeon said afterward, “I thought he shot open shots. He just knew we didn’t need them. When we need them, he makes them.”
Turgeon raved about Cowan’s defense on Ohio junior guard Jordan Dartis, who came in averaging 14.7 points a game and shooting 41.2 percent on 3-point shots. Dartis went scoreless for the first time since doing so twice as a freshman.
“He couldn’t get a shot off,” Turgeon said of Dartis, who tried only three in 17 minutes.
Turgeon said he turned to his assistants “five times” during the game to talk about Cowan’s evolution.
“‘Man, this kid is really getting good,’” Turgeon recalled telling them. “He just keeps getting better and better. He’s reading situations better. He’s really playing at a high level. He’s just concerned about winning and he’s concerned about being the best player he can be. When you get guys like that, they usually keep getting better.”