Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — The team Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon talked about throughout the preseason — one that shared the ball, executed in its half-court offense when needed to and defended with a toughness rarely seen from most of its recent predecessors — finally showed up for the 2019-20 season Sunday in the championship game of the Orlando Invitational.
Playing against Marquette and senior guard Markus Howard, the nation’s leading scorer coming off a 51-point performance against Southern California at the HP Field House, the No. 5 Terps played up to their ranking in an impressive 84-63 victory that was virtually over late in the first half.
It was as much relief as it was validation for Turgeon.
“I was waiting for that,” Turgeon said after the game. “More of a complete game out of us.”
While senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after scoring a team-high 22 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and three steals Sunday, junior guard Darryl Morsell had the most impact on the game itself, bottling up Howard at one end and scoring 17 points at the other. Morsell also pulled down 10 rebounds and had three assists with no turnovers.
Howard, who also put up 40 points in the tournament opener against Davidson, was limited to just six points. The 5-foot-11 guard missed 11 of 12 shots, including all six 3-point attempts. It was only the third time in his career that the reigning Big East Player of the Year failed to hit a 3-pointer when attempting at least one.
“Even to the end, Darryl guarded Howard with 40 seconds to go, wouldn’t let him catch the ball,” Turgeon said. “Darryl set the tone, he did a great job. But a lot of guys did a good job of guarding that kid. Aaron Wiggins was terrific on him, Anthony Cowan was terrific on him, Donta Scott was terrific when he switched on him, and our ball screen defense was really, really good the whole game."
Said Morsell: “I knew what he was he capable of in his other two outings in the tournament. I just tried to make it tough for him, contest every shot, just try to use my size [at 6-5] and my leverage, just try to get physical with him. We were switching screens. It was everybody. Everybody was locked in, dialed into the game plan.
"I know if I bring it defensively, we get out and run. I was just focused on making it hard for them.”
So was his former Mount Saint Joseph teammate. Despite finishing with just eight points — tying his lowest output of the season — sophomore forward Jalen Smith blocked Marquette big man Theo John twice in the first two minutes of the game and three times in the first half, sending a message to the Golden Eagles that they would have to win the game from the outside.
“You’ve got to give credit to ‘Stix’ and the twins,” Turgeon said of Smith and the Mitchell twins. “And I think he [Howard] got tired. Three games in four days is tough for the things he has to do.”
Sophomore forward Brendan Bailey, who led Marquette (5-2) with a career-high 27 points, said it was difficult to have a chance with Howard being limited.
“Markus is a huge part of our team as everyone in the world knows,” Bailey said. “So we need him to win. It’s a team game, we need everybody, and he’s a key piece to our team. They came out and played a defense on Markus that we haven’t really seen that yet.”
Said Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski, who grew up in Severna Park: “Markus has seen pretty much every kind of defense. But our group, because it’s a new group, hasn’t necessarily seen that. I don’t think all around we handled it up to the level we needed to be capable of.”
The victory gave Maryland its first 8-0 start since the 2006-07 season. It was the first in-season tournament the Terps have won since 2016-17, when they got off to a school-record 20-2 start and, as Turgeon pointed out, their sixth in-season tournament championship in seven tries. The lone exception came two seasons ago, when they lost to St. Bonaventure in the opening game of a two-game tournament in Niceville, Florida.
Unlike the first two games in this tournament, when Maryland needed to come back from slow and sloppy starts against both Temple and Harvard before securing a pair of seven-point wins, the Terps came out fast and focused. With Turgeon inserting sophomore point guard Eric Ayala back in the starting lineup for the first time since the season opener, Maryland went on a 12-0 run to break an 11-11 tie.
“I thought we got stops early, and that allowed us to run a little bit,” Cowan said. “That really carried us through the whole game. We got consecutive stops and we saw the ball go through the basket a little bit. I think that really jump-started us a little bit.”
When Cowan buried a straightaway 3-pointer from about 25 feet with seven seconds left in the half and the shot clock about to expire, Maryland’s lead was 42-21 and its collective confidence was higher than it had been at any point this season. The Terps had trailed at halftime of their previous two games here, and had not led by more than 14 points in any of their previous games at home against lesser competition.
Even in the second half, when Marquette cut a 46-21 lead to 52-39 on a pair of free throws by Howard with a little under 13 minutes to go, Cowan wouldn’t let his team falter. A 3-point shot, also from the top of the key and also with the shot clock ticking down, silenced the Golden Eagles and their noisy fans. Cowan then stole the ball from Howard and fed Scott for a dunk.
“I think we knew they [were] going to make a run at some point,” Cowan said. “I think that really slowed it down a little bit.”
Asked about the confidence he has in that straightaway 3-pointer — often with the shot clock about to expire — Cowan offered a small hint of smile, similar to what he showed after the shot before the half ended went in.
“It feels good most of the time,” he said. “I like the ball at the top of the key. I guess you can call it my shot. Confident there. It just felt good. It was good ending the half the way we did.”
Turgeon said after the win over Temple that he thought his team had been a tad overrated.
Asked Sunday how much closer the Terps are to deserving their No. 5 ranking, Turgeon said: “Well, today we really played well. There’s a lot of really good teams out there. I think Michigan’s played like a top-five team. Ohio State has played like a top-five team. Michigan State plays a brutal schedule every year. We’re getting closer to the team I thought we’d be.”
Said Morsell: “It was big for us, especially for the young guys. For the older guys, we know it’s a long season. We know we got to get right back in the gym and get back, we got Big Ten play coming up [Saturday against Illinois], we got ACC/Big Ten Challenge [Wednesday against Notre Dame.] Everybody can see how talented we can be playing together. We got to keep going.”
NOTES: Wiggins, a sophomore wing, tied his career high with 15 points to go along with six rebounds. Scott had seven points and two steals in 18 minutes and Makhi Mitchell had four points and six rebounds in a little over 10 minutes. Scott, Mitchell and fellow freshman Hakim Hart combined for nine of Maryland’s first 18 points and were on the floor for part of the 11-0 run in the first half.
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