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Three takeaways from No. 17 Maryland basketball’s 57-50 win over Purdue

From Anthony Cowan Jr.'s ability to impact the game without scoring to Chol Marial’s progression, here are three takeaways from the No. 17 Maryland men’s basketball team’s 57-50 victory Saturday over Purdue.

Even without scoring, Cowan set the tone for the best first half the Terps have played in nearly two months.

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When Maryland raced out quickly to a double-digit lead over Purdue at Xfinity Center, a lot had to do with the Terps hitting their shots, particularly from 3-point range.

Perhaps just as important were the shots they were getting, and the reason they were getting them. The 3-pointers were mostly the result of finding open shooters in rhythm.

Cowan was the one leading the way. The senior point guard, who has been criticized in his career for not being enough of a facilitator, assisted on Maryland’s first five baskets and six of its first seven.

The team’s leading scorer didn’t even take his first shot until there were a little over seven minutes remaining in the opening half, and didn’t score his first basket, on a drive, until 3:29 remained.

In all, the Terps had assists on their first 10 baskets in building their lead to as many as 18 and to 16 at halftime.

Cowan finished the game with only one more assist for a season-high seven to go along with a season-low five points, including a pair of free throws with 12.5 seconds left to seal the victory.

While he shot 1-for-8 from the field and had five turnovers — two of them on offensive fouls — Cowan’s willingness to pass the ball could help the Terps moving forward.

“Anthony just wants to win,” coach Mark Turgeon said after the game. “I’ve said it 20 times already this year — he came back to win.”

Turgeon said that Cowan helped he and the team recover from a devastating 56-54 loss Tuesday at Wisconsin, when a botched inbounds pass led to Brad Davison’s game-winning 3-pointer.

It might have shown Cowan’s maturity since he wasn’t focused on the fact that he had missed a potential game-winning 3 himself.

“He was so positive after the Wisconsin game, [saying] ‘We’re right there, coach, we’re right there,’” Turgeon recalled. "And he really believes it. And we all believe it. We’re getting better.

“He does what it takes to win. Their pressure [Saturday] was bothering us getting into our half-court offense and he really kind of eased that a little bit. He’s having a heck of a year. He’s really guarding.”

Coming off the bench and hitting shots has allowed Aaron Wiggins to regain his confidence, so it might be better to leave him in that role.

The decision to bring the 6-foot-6 sophomore wing off the bench the past two games certainly looks like it allowed a player who is potentially Maryland’s best offensive weapon to relax. After going scoreless for the first time in his college career in an 18-point loss at Iowa on Jan. 10, Wiggins scored 13 points at Wisconsin and had 12 against Purdue.

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Wiggins got off to a good start Saturday, hitting two quick 3-pointers shortly after coming into the game. He wound up shooting 4-for-8 from the field, and though he missed his last four 3-point attempts, he looked confident taking them. Just as important, Wiggins had seven rebounds, three assists and a steal.

Turgeon said that both Wiggins and sophomore guard Eric Ayala now prefer coming off the bench, “and I have to force one of them to start.”

If that’s the case, having Wiggins stay in a bench role might give the Terps a proven scorer in reserve. The ball also seems to be moving better now that Ayala is the one getting the team in their offensive sets and Cowan is not forcing things.

“We need him to score,” Turgeon said of Wiggins. “He made two 3′s in the first half and missed a couple in the second half, but he got good looks. Because he’s playing better offensively, his defense and rebounding [are] back to where it needs to be for us to be successful.”

Wiggins is exhibiting the same sort of selfless attitude he did as a freshman, when he started a few games early and told Turgeon he might be better coming off the bench.

“I don’t pay attention to it. I just want to win,” Wiggins said Saturday. “If that’s what Coach feels is best for our team, I’m willing to do it.”

Chol Marial might not have an impact for awhile, perhaps until next season.

An impressive debut against Bryant — six points on dunks, five rebounds and a blocked shot in 14 minutes — has not translated in the Big Ten for the 7-2 freshman from South Sudan. Largely because of the way the games have played out, and the fact that Marial’s timing doesn’t appear to be back yet, Turgeon has had trouble finding minutes for him.

Marial played just two minutes against the Boilermakers, despite the fact that Purdue has a center in 7-3, 250-pound Matt Haarms who certainly doesn’t present the kind of physical challenge that the Terps faced in Iowa’s Luka Garza or the ability to step out for 3-pointers as Wisconsin’s Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter did.

It also doesn’t help Marial’s plight for playing time that sophomore forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) seems to be getting more comfortable playing with his back to the basket and is starting to hit more 3-pointers. And as long as freshman Donta Scott continues to grow in his role at power forward, the thought of playing Smith and Marial together is likely not going to happen much.

“Chol’s just not ready,” Turgeon said. “You’re watching the same game I’m watching. Two and a half years he didn’t play and major surgery on both legs four and a half, five months ago. We might not see Chol until next season — the real Chol. We just keep hoping it comes. The timing, he can’t get off his feet. He’s a great kid and we’ll keep plugging away. We have to become a deeper team if we’re going to be any good down the road.”

No. 17 Maryland@Northwestern

Tuesday, 7 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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