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3 takeaways from No. 7 Maryland’s 52-48 loss at Seton Hall

Anthony Cowan Jr. #1 of the Maryland Terrapins looses the ball as he runs into Jared Rhoden #14 of the Seton Hall Pirates during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 19, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. Seton Hall defeated Maryland 52-48.
Anthony Cowan Jr. #1 of the Maryland Terrapins looses the ball as he runs into Jared Rhoden #14 of the Seton Hall Pirates during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 19, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. Seton Hall defeated Maryland 52-48. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

NEWARK, N.J. — From Maryland’s offensive woes to what freshman center Chol Marial could give the Terps this season, here are 3 takeaways from Thursday’s 52-48 loss to Seton Hall at the Prudential Center.

The offense is reverting back to what we’ve seen for most of Mark Turgeon’s tenure at Maryland, and the last two years with the way he uses Anthony Cowan Jr.

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This was supposed to be the season Turgeon eased up on the reins when it came to his team’s often plodding offense, when the team’s talent and depth was supposed to allow Maryland to play more wide-open and take every opportunity to run in hopes of wearing out the competition.

This was also supposed to be the season that Turgeon would take Cowan out if his senior point guard wasn’t playing well.

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Instead, the Terps seem to be wearing out their coach. And Cowan, after a terrific start to his final year in College Park, has regressed noticeably the past two games.

After a game in which Maryland scored its fewest points since joining the Big Ten and until a furious comeback in the final two minutes threatened to break the record for fewest points in Turgeon’s nine seasons, Turgeon talked about his team’s decision-making and shot selection.

He didn’t throw Cowan or any other player under the bus that was awaiting the Terps for their long trip back to campus, but Turgeon questioned some who continually drove to the basket as the Pirates kept swatting away their shots rather than passing out to open shooters on the wing.

While Maryland has struggled in its 3-point shooting since the opening game, driving into the middle of a zone that is designed to funnel everything toward its shot-blockers played into Seton Hall’s defensive game plan.

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The Pirates wound up blocking 15 shots, one more than the number of field goals the Terps made, and also forced 17 turnovers, many of which were the result of those ill-conceived drives to the basket.

It started on the first possession with sophomore forward Jalen Smith getting stripped as he tried to drive. A few minutes later, sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins started Seton Hall’s block party as he went in to dunk, only to get it rejected by 7-2 Romaro Gill for the first of his six rejections.

And then there was Cowan. Though he finished with 16 points and again helped fuel a late Maryland comeback, Cowan missed seven of 10 3-pointers and also committed a season-high five turnovers. He had three of his four attempted drives blocked. The other he overshot and Wiggins dunked in the follow.

Not only did the Terps miss 16 of their 21 3-point attempts to continue a season-long shooting slump, they also made just nine of 31 two-pointers, illustrating Maryland’s lack of an inside game since the departure of Bruno Fernando.

While Cowan wasn’t the only one to blame for the lack of offensive execution — none of his teammates were too stellar either — he is the player with the ball in his hands on a high percentage of possessions trying to make something happen and sometimes appearing to try too hard.

Turgeon said before the season that he had the “power” to take Cowan out if he wasn’t playing well or smart.

But he played 38 minutes against Seton Hall. Cowan also played poorly in the team’s last loss at Penn State — missing 12 of 17 shots and committing four turnovers while playing 37 minutes. Both games were reminiscent of those the past two years where he didn’t play well or come out.

For the Terps to be able to put these last two games behind them, Turgeon has to get his team to play smarter and more selflesslessly, something Maryland did for most of the first month of the season.

And Turgeon needs to follow up on his preseason promise to show Cowan there are consequences if he doesn’t do either. Both Maryland and Cowan will be better for it in the long run.

There are some shades of 2015-16 when it comes to some players thinking about their NBA draft potential.

One of the biggest downfalls of Turgeon’s only Sweet 16 team was that several key players seemed more concerned with impressing NBA scouts than playing roles other than hero. As Melo Trimble said after coming back the following season, “Everyone wanted to be the man.”

In reality, everybody but Jake Layman tried on more than one occasion to take over games, sometimes to the detriment of the team. And, at last glance, Layman is the only player from that team who will have an NBA career.

While the same can’t be said — at least not yet — about this year’s team, the two players who most NBA scouts come to see have not helped their stock so far. It’s probably not as obvious as it was with Trimble, Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone, but some scouts have taken notice.

Neither Smith nor Wiggins can be accused of being selfish, but both are clearly struggling in the way they are being used. In fact, both probably need to show a little more of an Alpha male personality and be encouraged to do so.

Smith is trying to help his team establish an inside presence, but he is clearly more comfortable facing the basket and still has to prove to scouts that he is a reliable 3-point shooter. That he has taken just 12 shots the past two games — to Cowan’s 31 — is something that has to change for the Terps to be successful.

Wiggins wants to show he is more than a spot-up 3-point shooter, but as opposing teams continually try to run him off the line, he is still having trouble creating his own shot and appears to often be rushing.

Though certainly more aggressive this season — he has already been to the free throw line 29 times, one fewer than all of last season — Wiggins’ biggest strength should be knocking down open 3s. As evidenced by a percentage that has dipped under 30 percent, he hasn’t done that so far.

Can Chol Marial make a difference this season?

Just the sight of the 7-2 freshman from South Sudan suiting up for the first time in his college career had to be of some encouragement to Maryland looking for anything positive coming out of the Seton Hall debacle.

Perhaps if he were further along in his recovery from surgery in early September to help facilitate the healing of stress fractures in both legs, Marial might have helped the Terps even the battle of shot blocks (Maryland had five) against the Pirates.

Marial has also been known to be a pretty good outside shooter, too, which should be a help to a team shooting a dismal 30.3 percent on 3-pointers. Maryland ranks near the bottom of both the Big Ten (13 out of 14) and nearly the bottom (291 of 350) of Division I.

It’s unclear what the timetable might be with Marial in terms of his overall fitness to play at all, let alone as a regular in the rotation. But the Terps are clearly in need of a player who can impact the game on defense, as Seton Hall’s Romaro showed Thursday.

Maryland’s next game — Dec. 29 against Bryant — should be nothing more than a tuneup to get ready for the resumption of the Big Ten against Indiana on Jan. 4. But the Bulldogs are a respectable 7-4 — with one of the losses a two-point defeat at Rutgers, which beat Seton Hall by 20.

If a few more practices after Christmas can help get Marial’s stamina to a level needed to dress for a game or play more than a cameo role, it might be the perfect time to see what he has and where the Terps might be headed for the rest of the season.

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