COLLEGE PARK — The big-game atmosphere was back at Xfinity Center for Wednesday’s game against Butler. A “blackout” was in effect. The arena was nearly packed to capacity for a midweek 8:30 p.m. tipoff. Even Scott Van Pelt was in his courtside seat.
The Terps responded in a manner which raised both hopes and expectations for the season. It will be interesting to see what kind of crowd they’ll draw for Saturday’s game against Bucknell, which played No. 9 North Carolina more than respectably in Chapel Hill on Wednesday.
Here are three observations and opinions from Maryland’s 79-65 win over the Bulldogs.
1. Anthony Cowan Jr. is showing why he beat out Markelle Fultz to be named the top high school player in Washington, D.C., when they were seniors.
This is not to say Cowan is going to be the No. 1 selection in next year’s — or any year’s — NBA draft. But some of the same traits and talents he demonstrated at St. John’s College High are starting to show early in his sophomore year.
Cowan said over the summer that he was looking to come out of the shadow of Melo Trimble, and how he deferred a bit as a freshman because of the respect he held for Maryland’s former star, who called Cowan after Wednesday’s game to congratulate him.
After missing a double double by a rebound against UMES on Sunday, Cowan’s 25 points and 10 rebounds against Butler were both career highs and gave the 6-foot, 170-pound point guard his first career double double. He also had five assists and two steals.
That he did it by taking just eight shots from the field, making five, while going 12-for-15 from the free-throw line was reminiscent of the way Trimble put together some of his big scoring nights during his three seasons with the Terps.
“You watch him on film, he’s a really good player, obviously,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said of Cowan. “He does a really good job of playing with pace. He seeks contact, and he gets to the foul line. Melo Trimble taught him that, because he got to the foul line at a high rate.”
Cowan has led the Terps in scoring in all three games this season mostly because he is shooting better than fellow sophomores Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson, and is creating nearly twice as many free-throw opportunities than both combined.
Cowan is 14-for-23 from the field and 25-for-29 from the free-throw line, compared to Huerter, who is 12-for-24 from the field but only 3-for-7 from the line, and Jackson, who is 9-for-23 from the field and 5-for-8 from the line. Cowan is averaging 18.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists through three games.
2. Justin Jackson has yet to hit a 3-point shot, but his defense and rebounding have been a huge plus.
As a freshman, Jackson proved to be a surprisingly good outside shooter right from the start — he hit three of five 3-point attempts in a win over Georgetown in the second game of the season and then made five of seven two games later against Towson.
Jackson wound up leading the Terps in 3-point shooting (43.8 percent).
While Cowan hit three late-clock 3-pointers in six attempts against Butler after missing his first five tries in the first two games, Jackson has missed all seven of his attempts this season. The only one he tried against Butler hit nothing but air.
Still, the 6-7, 225-pound forward led the Terps in rebounding for the second time in three games, picking up 11, and played terrific defense against Butler’s best player, Kelan Martin, who was 5-for-15 from the field and was held to 12 points after scoring 20 in each of his team’s first two games.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon took exception to the notion that Jackson, who had a tendency to disappear at times as a freshman, did it again Wednesday by taking just four shots in 29 minutes. Jackson also got into some foul trouble and committed four of Maryland’s 20 turnovers. Turgeon blamed himself as much as Jackson.
“Justin getting only four shots is a little bit coaching,” Turgeon said. “The first play of the game, we run a play and he might have gotten bumped — zero assists, four turnovers is not Justin. That’s really the thing that sticks out to me. But I’m not worried about him. I see him in practice making plays and doing things.
“And the great thing is he didn’t hang his head. He kept defending and he kept rebounding, and that’s a really good sign for us moving forward. We can’t be great moving forward if Justin’s only taking four shots a game. We need him a better part of it and that’s my job to figure out how to get him more shots.”
3. Darryl Morsell has some Dez Wells in him.
Ever since Wells left Maryland after he and Trimble led the Terps back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years — and the first time under Turgeon — the Terps have been looking for someone to strike fear in their opponents the way Wells did.
Some very good players were intimidated by Wells — a young Denzel Valentine comes immediately to mind. Morsell is nearly as big as a freshman as Wells was as a senior, and plays with the same attitude that Wells had during most of his three seasons at Maryland.
Take the steal-and-dunk Morsell made against Butler, coming right after the last of Cowan’s 3-pointers — the one Jordan said came from “36 feet.” That dunk put Maryland’s lead, which had been cut from 13 to five, back to 10 with 5:40 to go.
Morsell’s big play seemed to be preceded by him giving Martin an earful.
The precocious freshman guard, who finished with 13 points, wouldn’t say exactly what he was telling Butler’s star player, a 6-7, 220 pound senior, but it was enough to rattle Martin so much that he lost the ball.
As Morsell approached the basket, he slowed down. The former Mount Saint Joseph star acknowledged later that he was thinking about doing the same kind of 360-degree dunk that he made in the exhibition win over Randoph-Macon a couple of weeks earlier.
Instead he went straight up for a quiet two-hand dunk rather getting himself in ESPN’s top 10 plays for the night.
“It definitely was [in my mind], but I was a little winded so I didn’t want to take the risk; I wanted to secure the two points,” Morsell said with a smile.
Morsell was matched up for most of the night on sophomore guard Kamar Baldwin, who finished 6-for-21 from the field.
“That’s just something I pride myself in,” Morsell said of his defense. “Coming into the game, I knew that he was a good player. Coach Turgeon told me before the game I was going to make up on him. That’s the reason he brought me here, for my toughness.”