No. 7 Maryland overcomes 14 first-half turnovers to beat Rhode Island, 73-55, with balanced scoring

COLLEGE PARK — The No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball team overcame a messy start Saturday night against Rhode Island, turning the ball over 10 times in the first 10 minutes and 14 times in the first half while falling behind by 12 points.

Still, the Terps somehow took a three-point halftime lead and went on to a 73-55 victory over the Rams at Xfinity Center. It helped that Maryland (2-0) committed just three turnovers in the second half and held Rhode Island (1-1) to 7-for-34 shooting.


Asked about what caused his team to make so many turnovers early, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said: "We were panicking a little bit. Let’s just be real. It was a great crowd. It was a terrific crowd for a late-night game this early in the season. There was a lot of energy in the building. Maybe that had a little bit to do with it. I tried to play a lot of guys early.

"Some of our young guys just weren’t quite ready for the pace of that game and the physicality of that game. We were just out of sync. Give them credit. Their ball-screen defense was terrific. They pressured us and we just got used to it as the game went on. We played the way we’re capable of playing. I though the last 25 minutes we were really good.”


Sophomore forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) had his second straight double double to start the season, leading Maryland with 19 points, including 13 in the second half, and 11 rebounds. Sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins had his first career double double with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Eric Ayala came off the bench to help spark his team’s late first-half comeback and took over at the point for most of the second half to finish with 13 points. After going scoreless in the first half, senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. finished with 14 points and five assists.

Trying to avoid its first loss as a top-10 team to an unranked nonconference foe since losing to Arizona in the 2001-02 season opener — the year the Terps went on to win their only national championship — Maryland (2-0) used its 1-3-1 zone defense to get back in the game and a solid man-to-man to break it open in the second half.

“I think the zone caused us some issues. Their length in that zone caused us some issues,” second-year Rhode Island coach David Cox said. “I’d say that was the turning point. ... I’m not sure how they adjusted, we kept playing hard, we kept coming at them. They’ve got pros on that team and at some point I think the talent level kicked in. They played a very efficient basketball game in the second half."

Trailing 28-20 late in the first half, the Terps went on a 10-0 run to take their first lead of the game at 30-28 with 1:19 left on a 3-pointer by freshman forward Donta Scott. Maryland led at halftime, 35-32, on the first 3-pointer of the season by Wiggins, who had missed his first seven tries. After the Rams hit a 3-pointer to tie the game on their first possession of the second half, Ayala’s three-point play gave the Terps the lead for good.

“We just had to focus and slow down, play poised and just stay in control. In the second half, we [were] more together as a team," Ayala said.

Cowan takes control

Cowan finished the first half with four assists and just one of his team’s 14 turnovers, but he missed all four shots he tried. He scored his first basket on a breakaway layup that was goaltended away, giving the Terps a 43-37 lead with 14:58 remaining. On Maryland’s next possession, he drove, was fouled and made both free throws.

“I just let the game come to me a little bit more,” said Cowan, who has 10 assists to just three turnovers this season. “I really wasn’t forcing anything in the first half and the second half my teammates started to find me. I started to see the ball go in the basket a couple of times and I got my confidence up a little bit.”

Turgeon said it wasn’t by design for Cowan to have two such different halves offensively.

“I think Anthony would like to have 13 in both halves and I would have been a lot happier at halftime, but we were so out of it — so out of sync,” Turgeon said. “We changed our offense in the second half. Spaced them. Changed our ball screen [offense]. What we were doing with our ball screen really got him and Eric going a little bit. His leadership was amazing. His poise.”

Turgeon was just as happy, and perhaps happier, with Cowan’s defense throughout on Rhode Island junior guard Fatts Russell, who had 18 points in his team’s season-opening win over Long Island University-Brooklyn and had just five Saturday on 1-for-8 shooting.

“We don’t talk about his defense enough,” Turgeon said of Cowan, who as a sophomore made the Big Ten’s all-defensive team. “That kid Fatts is really a good player and Anthony did a terrific job on him all night. I guess he’s just being a senior, you know. I’m just glad he likes to bring us home, which is good. I’d much rather have that than a guy who plays good in the first half and can’t do it in the second.”


Said Ayala: “He took over the second half, and with this team, we’ve got so much talent that it can be anybody as any given moment.”

Senior guard Jeff Dowtin, who teamed with Cowan in the backcourt at St. John’s High and helped the Cadets win a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship over DeMatha and future No. 1 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz, led Rhode Island with 14 points.

“That’s something that we’re always going to talk about down the road,” Cowan said of his matchup with Dowtin. “I can’t wait to the years when we’re 30 and we’re sitting somewhere and we’re talking about when we played each other in college our senior year. It’s crazy how it just came full circle.”

Instant analysis

After spending much of the preseason playing faster, Maryland still had trouble in the first half playing in a half-court offense. Many of the first-half turnovers were the result of too many players going too fast, especially freshmen like Scott, who got two quick fouls, and Makhi Mitchell, who made his first start and wound up with four fouls in a little over four minutes.

Turgeon will have a solid week of practice to correct that, with Maryland’s next game not until next Saturday against Oakland.

“That week will give us time to work on the little things, point out everything we’re doing well to make sure we continue to do good with it,” Wiggins said. “It just gives us time to prepare for the next team, taking it one game at a time, being locked in and making sure we’re taking care of business.”

Oakland@No. 7 Maryland

Saturday, noon

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