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After nine-day break for exams, Maryland looks to ace test against Fairleigh Dickinson

Nine days after its lackluster 17-point win over Division III Catholic, the Maryland men’s basketball team returns to the court at Xfinity Center on Thursday to play Fairleigh Dickinson.

The Terps won’t look past the Knights as they did their last opponent, but coach Mark Turgeon wants his young team also focused on the resumption of Big Ten play early next month.

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With the Terps rested after their break for final exams, Turgeon is hopeful that the ankle injury that kept freshman center Bruno Fernando out the past two games as well as the maladies that kept sophomore forward Justin Jackson out for two have healed.

Turgeon is also hoping the Terps learned they can’t afford to take any team lightly.

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“I think that’s the first game we really played down to the competition,” Turgeon said on a teleconference Wednesday of the Dec. 12 game against Catholic, in which the Terps trailed for a good chunk of the first half.

“I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but we have practiced well this week around finals. I feel better about our team than I did a week ago. I think we had a really good week. It was good to get back on the practice court.”

Given what happened last weekend with some of the teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten — Rutgers beat then-No. 15 Seton Hall, Indiana won in overtime against then-No. 18 Notre Dame and Nebraska nearly upset No. 13 Kansas — Turgeon knows the competition in the conference suddenly seems deeper than it did a month ago.

Asked whether he has a sense of urgency as the Terps prepare for their next Big Ten game, Jan. 2 against Penn State, Turgeon said: “I always have a sense of urgency. … I believe in the coaches in the league, teams are going to get better. They always do. I wasn’t surprised. We were really close to having a clean slate that day. It was a great day for our league. We needed it.”

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Turgeon will use his team’s last two nonconference games — Maryland hosts UMBC on Dec. 29 — to figure out his rotation.

The injuries to Fernando and Jackson gave redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic some extended playing time. And the 6-foot-9 forward from the Canary Islands responded with a career-high nine points and six rebounds against Gardner-Webb, followed by seven points and eight rebounds against Catholic.

“I’m really proud of Josh, how much better he’s gotten since he stepped foot on campus,” Turgeon said. “If he continues to work hard, if he continues to practice well, all depends on situations and games. But he’s made it much tougher. It was an easy decision [to sit him] early, but he keeps getting better and better. You never know what’s going to happen. It’s a long season.”

Fernando and Jackson are expected to play against Fairleigh Dickinson, while redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley, who sat out the Catholic game with a cold and has been bothered by ankle problems, is a game-time decision. Sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who missed three days of practice with strep throat, should also play as well.

“It’s a good time to have it if we’re going to have [health problems],” Turgeon said. “Hopefully this is the end of it for us. Hopefully we’ll be healthy the rest of the year.”

Turgeon said Jackson has been bothered by illness and a sore shoulder since seemingly breaking out of an early-season shooting slump with a 20-point performance in Maryland’s overtime win at Illinois on Dec. 3. Jackson came off the bench in a Dec. 7 win over Ohio before sitting out against Gardner-Webb and Catholic.

“His shoulder’s good,” Turgeon said. “I think he banged it once this week in practice, but it didn’t seem to affect him at all. He’s trying to strengthen it, but I think he’s more confident today than he was two weeks ago.”

As for Fernando, the sprained ankle he suffered against Ohio has lingered longer than expected. The 6-foot-10 Angolan returned to practice this week, but is “definitely not 100 percent,” Turgeon said. “He’ll play most likely tomorrow if he doesn’t have a setback between now and then.”

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