Bloomington, Ind. — Indiana has never been an easy place for Maryland to play since it joined the Big Ten four years ago. The good folks at the school could change the name on the building after Simon Skjodt’s family donated about $40 million, but Assembly Hall is still a house of horrors for Mark Turgeon’s team.
Maryland played hard in its loss to the Hoosiers on Monday night, and in spots played well. But as has been one of their problems all season, the Terps couldn’t sustain things, and as has been a problem in their past two Big Ten road games, they couldn’t finish things. It wasn’t as bad as the loss at Michigan a week earlier. But it could be most costly.
Bruno Fernando’s ankle sprain — at least that’s what it was being called right after the game — was the latest injury in what has been a difficult season physically for the talented big man from Angola. It didn’t help that Michal Cekovsky got in foul trouble and that Joshua Tomaic’s first college start was both short-lved and not very impactful.
Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland’s 71-68 loss to Indiana.
Fernando’s ankle sprain could all but eliminate the Terps from making a serious late-season run.
Though the 6-foot-10 center hadn’t done much since being named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Week for his performances earlier this month against Penn State and Iowa — in part because of a flu bug that deemed him ineffective for more than a week — he was starting to show signs of getting back to himself in the first half against the Hoosiers.
Then came the injury, which occurred when Fernando rolled his ankle after being fouled in the lane by Juwan Morgan. Fernando immediately grabbed for his right ankle and had to be helped to the bench, and eventually left for the locker room.
Based on his recovery time from the high left ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason (3½ weeks) and the milder sprain on the same right ankle he sustained last month (two weeks), a lot will depend on the severity of the sprain. Still, he likely won’t be at full strength until early- to mid-February.
It comes at a particularly difficult time for the Terps, given the upcoming games against No. 6 Michigan State on Sunday at home and at No. 3 Purdue on Jan. 31. Maryland wasn’t competitive with the Spartans in East Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 4 when the Terps lost by 30, and had a tough time dealing with 7-2 Purdue center Isaac Haas on Dec. 1.
With the foul-prone Cekovsky and the inexperienced Tomaic as Maryland’s only healthy big men, Turgeon has no choice but to go back to playing a smaller lineup with either one of them and four perimeter players. While the Terps did this earlier in the season, it didn’t work all that well, especially when it came to defense and rebounding.
The Terps will need help from their home fans, but will they find it against teams other than Michigan State?
Maryland fans have long been fair-weather in football, but they’ve also become similar in basketball as well. The attendance figures the public relations staff gives out at every game are “announced” and typically not close to the real number of fans in the stands on a particular night.
Given that the students will be back on campus this week, Sunday’s game against the Spartans should provide for a good scene, one that could help the Terps be competitive with a team that hasn’t been all that dominant of late. But what kind of turnout is expected for Rutgers, Northwestern and maybe even Wisconsin?
The Big Ten is a great league for attracting sellouts, regardless of the level of basketball being played or the record of the home team. Maryland played at Nebraska a few years ago and the place was packed despite the fact that there had been a blizzard the previous night and the Cornhuskers were on a long losing streak.
If Maryland isn’t winning — something the Terps have been doing on a regular basis since joining the league — fans won’t give up a free night just to support their team. If Turgeon’s team doesn’t use its home-court advantage to upset Michigan State, then loses at Purdue, Xfinity Center could start looking like it did in Turgeon’s early years for games against everybody but Duke and North Carolina.
The lack of a backup point guard for Anthony Cowan Jr. is something that can’t be ignored.
Let’s be clear, Cowan has been Maryland’s most consistent and dynamic player this season. Faced with the difficult task of replacing Melo Trimble, Cowan has produced equal to better numbers. Despite the injuries and inconsistencies around him, he is having a terrific year.
Unfortunately, Monday night’s performance wasn’t a great one. While he led the Terps with 18 points, he needed 18 shots to do it. He also had six turnovers to just four assists. And when the game was on the line in the last few minutes, Cowan tried to do too much and all but ignored his teammates, fellow sophomore guard Kevin Huerter in particular.
Cowan would be the first to acknowledge he didn’t play well — he wasn’t made available to the media afterward so his thoughts on the matter are unknown — but it demonstrated how badly Turgeon needs a backup for his point guard. Huerter, who played point guard in high school, is more effective as a shooting guard. Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) is a hard-working player, but he is more a small forward than anything.
Help will arrive next season when Eric Ayala comes, but he too is considered more of a combo guard. Tyger Campbell, who is built like Cowan, is another four-star prospect seriously considering the Terps, and locking him in seems more a priority than ever for Turgeon and his staff.
That doen’t help this season. Cowan will continue to play 40 minutes and to do what he has done for most of the year. He just has to play a little smarter and trust his teammates, more than he did at Indiana for Maryland to have any chance to be succesfull.