The No. 4 Maryland men’s basketball team’s 10-game winning streak ended Tuesday night. From Anthony Cowan Jr.’s struggles at the Bryce Jordan Center to Mark Turgeon’s growing frustration with the way his team is playing offensively, here are three takeaways from a 76-69 loss.
After a terrific start to his senior year, Cowan regressed during a tough night.
If the first 10 games this season were, as Turgeon likes to say, the “new Anthony,” the point guard’s performance was straight out of the old playbook that he seemed to have discarded. It led to him finishing his career without a victory on the road against the Nittany Lions.
While Cowan certainly seemed to play a lot harder than he did a year ago, when things got so bad that Turgeon benched both Cowan and Bruno Fernando for a short stretch, some old habits crept up such as sloppy turnovers and forcing shots, three of which were blocked.
Cowan’s final stat line — 16 points on 5-for-17 shooting (including 3-for-9 on 3-pointers) and four turnovers (tying a season-high) in a little under 37 minutes — was reminiscent of last year, when he scored 15 points, most of them when the game was long decided, and made five turnovers.
Except for his sophomore year, when he scored 15 points, hit all three of his 3-pointers and had five assists to only two turnovers in a 74-70 loss, Cowan has not played well on Penn State’s homecourt. And, as a result, neither have the Terps.
Given the way he has performed since the start of the season, when he has been one of the best point guards in the country and up there with Michigan State’s Cassius Winston as the best floor leader in the Big Ten, Cowan was almost due for a clunker.
To his credit, Cowan was quick to blame himself for what Turgeon labeled his team’s over-dribbling that led to a season-high 20 turnovers.
“I think we were doing a lot of dribbling, especially on my part as well,” Cowan said. “Just got to move the ball a little bit more.”
Turgeon’s patience with his team’s offense is wearing thin.
What transpired Tuesday did not seem to come as a surprise to the Maryland coach, following quickly on the heels of Saturday’s last-second 59-58 win over Illinois when the Terps, and Cowan in particular, managed to make enough plays down the stretch to make up for nearly 40 minutes of mediocrity.
Turgeon gave the credit to Penn State, which has become one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten, for how poorly his team played on the offensive end. But unless Maryland starts hitting its outside shots with more regularity, or suddenly develops an inside game, other teams could do the same defensively.
Now with only one game in the next three weeks — a big one Dec. 19 against No. 22 Seton Hall at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey — the Terps are looking forward to getting back in the gym to install more plays and get their offense going before Big Ten play resumes in early January.
After showing a lot more movement than the past few years in a majority of its early-season games, Maryland’s half-court offense appears to be bogged down with players waiting for the ball to get to them. At times, there is also a lack of creativity in taking advantage of the team’s collective athleticism.
As good as Cowan is at bailing the Terps out of late-clock situations or simply going on one-man scoring runs, the ball seems to move better when sophomore guard Eric Ayala is running the offense. Ayala can use his size and added quickness to get the ball in the lane to create shots for others, as well as score himself.
Maryland’s best stretch Tuesday came in the first few minutes of the game. Ayala drove and fed Jalen Smith for an open corner 3 for their team’s first points, scored on a tough drive, hit a 3 off a fastbreak himself and then made another drive to give the Terps their last lead at 10-9.
Ayala scored seven of Maryland’s first 10 points by hitting his first three shots, but made just one of his last seven to finish with 15 points. Penn State certainly made adjustments after his hot start, but Ayala has shown the ability to keep the ball moving and take pressure off Cowan as defenses are geared to stop him.
Ricky Lindo Jr. finally got some extended minutes.
After a stretch in which he barely got any playing time — or, as was the case against Marquette in the championship game of the Orlando Invitational, didn’t play at all — the sophomore forward got in for 13 minutes against Penn State. He even started the second half.
Though Lindo finished with just two points (making a pair of free throws) and one rebound in 13 minutes, Turgeon seemed pleased with Lindo’s effort and made note of it in the postgame news conference. Turgeon said before the game that Lindo had been practicing better the last week or so.
Considering how little the Terps are getting on a consistent basis from their frontcourt aside from Smith, Turgeon is going to need Lindo to regain the confidence he seemed to have going into the season when it appeared he would be either a starter or a regular rotation player.
Turgeon indicated after practice Monday that immediate help is not yet in the offing from 7-foot-2 freshman Chol Marial as he tries to get in game shape after recovering from surgery on both shins in early September. While Marial could be ready to make a contribution defensively right away with his 8-foot wingspan, he still needs to be able to run the court.
Lindo has shown an ability to stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting, and his length could be a plus at both ends of the court inside. While freshman center Makhi Mitchell and his twin brother Makhel give the Terps the big bodies they lack with Fernando’s departure, and freshman forward Donta Scott has added some much-needed toughness, Lindo can certainly help provide some versatility to the frontcourt.