COLLEGE PARK — From the effectiveness of the Maryland men’s basketball team’s “small” lineup to Chol Marial’s learning curve, here are three takeaways from Saturday’s 75-59 win over the Hoosiers at Xfinity Center.
Going back to a “small” lineup pays off.
After using four perimeter players surrounding sophomore forward Jalen Smith for long stretches earlier in the season, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon returned to a more traditional lineup after the Terps played their best basketball in winning the Orlando Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend.
It was done to take some pressure off Smith as the team’s long big man and keep him out of foul trouble. But as Maryland showed against the Hoosiers, going small helps the Terps play faster and get more out of their transition game while they continue to struggle in most of their halfcourt sets.
In both the first half, when Maryland used an 11-0 run to overcome a sluggish start and an early five-point deficit to take the lead for good, and in the second half, when the Terps crushed Indiana during a 35-8 run that helped open a 30-point lead, Turgeon went small.
In most cases, it was three guards — senior Anthony Cowan Jr., junior Darryl Morsell and sophomore Eric Ayala — as well as sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins, playing with Smith. Turgeon has often said that they are his five best players.
Others helped in spots. Sophomores Serrel Smith Jr. and Ricky Lindo Jr. triggered the team’s defensive intensity during the first-half run while freshmen Donta Scott, who started his third straight game, and Chol Marial contributed to turning the close game into a blowout in the second half.
The small lineup gives the Terps the best chance to become the dynamic team they were when they blew out Marquette in Orlando and Notre Dame in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in College Park. Both games resulted in 21-point wins.
Asked when he decides it’s time to go small, Turgeon said: "It’s just a gut feeling. I wanted to do it earlier in the first half but I thought Donta had really good minutes. A lot of it had to do with when they subbed and what they were playing.
“It was really good for us in the first half. Under 8 [minutes left] to the 3-minute mark [in the second half] it was good for us again. So if you just work, you can play post defense. We had guys willing to work. You can’t take away from what Aaron Wiggins did defensively.”
Turgeon said the key to playing a smaller lineup comes on the defensive end, starting with Morsell, who typically has to cover someone bigger.
“It all starts with Darryl for us, when Darryl locks in,” Turgeon said. “I’ve been really on Eric Ayala to guard better and I thought he guarded better today. There’s a lot of guys that played better [Saturday] than they’ve been playing, so it showed today. We’ll see as it goes on.”
Cowan said that it helps the Terps offensively.
“It’s a lot faster,” Cowan said. “We space the floor. All of us can shoot a little bit. I like it. A lot more room.”
Cowan keeps a clean sheet.
For the second straight game, Cowan didn’t commit a single turnover. The back-to-back games without a turnover — in which he had 10 total assists, including six Saturday — comes after he committed nine total turnovers in road losses at Penn State and Seton Hall. It’s only the third time in his career that Cowan has not committed a turnover in two straight games.
In games in which Cowan doesn’t commit a turnover, and the Terps are 8-2, including 7-2 in the Big Ten. While the Terps have won games when Cowan has committed a high number of turnovers — he had six in a win over Purdue last season — and have lost games when he didn’t have many, Cowan still seems to set the tone for Maryland, as he has for much of the past two seasons. The Terps had just seven turnovers total Saturday.
Though some forced 3-point shots in the first half led to Cowan not having a great shooting line — he finished 4-for-13 overall and 1-for-6 from 3-point range — he got the ball inside more both passing and driving, going in strong on what turned out to be a three-point play and lofting a perfect teardrop over a taller defender in the lane.
His performance, particularly in the second half, was more reminiscent of how Cowan played in the previous 11 wins than in the two losses. It’s what Turgeon has called “playing the right way” in taking care of the ball and trusting his teammates. Given the upcoming stretch for the Terps starting Tuesday at home against No. 5 Ohio State — followed by road games at No. 23 Iowa and Wisconsin — more of the same will be needed.
“He’s making good decisions,” Turgeon said. “Anthony’s all about winning this year, he’s a whole different player. I keep saying that and I think you see that. When you have a senior that’s playing that way, it gives you a chance to keep getting better and have a chance to be really good by the end of the season.”
Marial still has plenty to learn.
Though Chol Marial again showed some of his potential in a shorter stint Saturday against Indiana than he had in his college debut against Bryant Dec. 29, it was clear that the 7-foot-2 freshman center from South Sudan is going to need some time adapting to the more physical and faster game in the Big Ten.
Marial was pushed around inside by Indiana redshirt junior center Joey Brunk, who also did that early on to Jalen Smith. And as quick as Bryant’s guards were going to the basket, Indiana’s were a little stronger in their ability to get off shots over Marial’s nearly 8-foot wing span and draw fouls.
It resulted in Marial giving up some early second chances for the Hoosiers and getting called for two quick fouls. Marial, who had four fouls in a little over eight total minutes, seemed a little more relaxed, and possibly more adjusted to the difference in the way the game is called in the Big Ten, when he played in the second half.
After getting three dunks, five rebounds and a blocked shot in 14 minutes against Bryant, Marial got one dunk, three rebounds and a block against Indiana in nearly 8½ minutes.
Turgeon said that he teased Marial that he picked up “a foul every 27 seconds” and also explained that he wanted to get little-used redshirt junior Joshua Tomaic in the game. Tomaic played six minutes.
“It was fun for him,” Turgeon said of Marial. “The first stint he was really lost offensively and then he was much better. We kept it really simple when he was in the game. He was much better offensively. But defensively he’s going to be terrific for us as the season goes on. He’s happy. He’s pretty much pain-free. He gets better every day.”
Turgeon said that Marial took every rep in practice Thursday, then struggled Friday.
“It’s just about trying to get him the right [amount of] reps, where he is not too sore and get better,” Turgeon said. “I think depending on the game and how well he’s doing — staying out of foul trouble and remembering all the plays we’re trying to do, he’ll get more minutes.”
No. 5 Ohio State@No. 15 Maryland
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
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