Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon was justifiably concerned about his team’s matchup with Loyola Chicago in the featured game of the Charm City College Classic on Saturday at Royal Farms Arena.
The concerns — stemming from the quick turnaround from Thursday’s two-point loss at Purdue in Maryland’s Big Ten road opener — grew when his two big men got into early foul trouble and the No. 23 Terps fell behind early.
“I don’t really give rah-rah speeches before games,” Turgeon said. “I save it for halftime. It was like, ‘Hey guys, this is not going to be easy if you think it’s going to be easy.’ I knew we were tough, I knew we had toughness. But my guys showed me a lot today.”
It took Maryland’s smallest player, junior Anthony Cowan Jr., to help quell his coach’s fear and overcome the slow start.
Led by Cowan’s 17 points, the Terps erased the memories of their disappointing trip to Mackey Arena with a 55-41 victory over the Ramblers, who made an unlikely run to the Final Four last season.
After Loyola Chicago (5-5) went up by five points early, Cowan and freshman guard Eric Ayala keyed a 15-2 run to help Maryland lead by eight late in the first half. Leading 24-20 at halftime, Maryland (8-2) opened the second half with a 9-3 run to go up by double digits.
Much of it was spurred by Cowan, as much defensively as offensively.
“I don’t go into any game knowing how it’s going to go,” Cowan said. “This game, I really tried to let my defense help me on offense. It was a little slow on offense and the best way you can change that is with a little intensity on defense.”
While Turgeon credited Kyle Tarp, the team’s director of basketball performance, and head trainer Matt Charvat, with getting his team ready physically less than 48 hours after the loss to Purdue, Cowan had to get over Thursday emotionally, too.
Cowan finished a 4-for-17 shooting night against the Boilermakers by getting a potential game-winning 3-pointer blocked in the final seconds. Cowan said Tarp and Charvat did their jobs; the rest was up to him.
“You know me, I don’t really get too tired,” Cowan said. “Mentally, obviously it was a big loss. But in college basketball, there’s no time to battle the last game. I think we really took on the challenge today. It’s kind of good to get the bad taste out of your mouth a little bit.”
After Turgeon said his freshmen “played young” and showed their inexperience against Purdue, Maryland was helped by three of its freshmen off the bench against Loyola Chicago on Saturday.
“We had some things happen tonight, Bruno [Fernando] and ‘Stix’ [Jalen Smith] got into early foul trouble, then Darryl [Morsell] twisted his ankle in warmups,” Turgeon said. “We had a lot going on. It forced me to play depth and our depth was really good.”
Freshman wing Aaron Wiggins finished with 10 points, six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes. Shooting guard Serrel Smith Jr., who was scoreless against the Boilermakers, had eight points, making a couple of 3-pointers in the second half.
Because of the foul trouble for Fernando, who still wound up with eight points, five rebounds, four blocks and two steals in just 23 minutes, as well as on Jalen Smith, freshman forward Ricky Lindo Jr. had five rebounds and made his only shot attempt in a season-high 24 minutes.
“Serrel probably had his first- or second-best game of the year,” Turgeon said. “He really got to play a lot. I thought Ricky Lindo defensively out there was terrific. He played smart. He’s learning. Our depth’s better.
“I told the team at halftime, I said, ‘I know it kind of stunk that we went through it, but the foul trouble is probably going to help us in the second half because we’re going to be fresher because they have an injury and they’re not as deep as they normally are.’ I thought the foul trouble really helped Bruno not got tired.”
In stark contrast, Loyola’s two freshman starters, Isaiah Bujdoso and Cooper Kaifes, combined in 53 minutes to shoot 0-for-6 from the field and commit four turnovers while getting six rebounds.
Much was made about Saturday’s game being a return to Baltimore for former Mount Saint Joseph stars Morsell and Jalen Smith.
Many of their friends, family members and former teammates, as well as Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey, were in attendance among the small crowd announced at 3,640.
Unfortunately, Morsell got hurt in warmups and Smith picked up two quick fouls.
Morsell wound up playing just 12 minutes, only two coming in the second half, finishing with four points, a rebound and a block.
Smith also played just 12 minutes, finishing with just one point and three rebounds, though he did have three of Maryland’s 13 blocks.
Defense rattles Loyola
Maryland’s defense did a good job against Purdue, but it went for naught because the offense was so bad. On Saturday, the Terps were rewarded because of their defensive efforts, especially against Loyola’s two most experienced players.
Redshirt seniors Marques Townes and Clayton Custer combined to shoot 7-for-22 from the field, including 2-for-10 on 3-pointers. They also committed seven of their team’s 19 turnovers and had just one assist — by Custer — of Loyola’s five. Sophomore center Cameron Krutwig finished with team highs of 12 points and eight rebounds.
“Our big three had two assists and 12 turnovers,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “We were 1-for-14 from 3 before Clay hit that last shot. There were times we really looked good, but we had way too many bad possessions. That’s the sum of it right now.”
Asked how much of it was his team’s lack of execution and how much it was Maryland’s defense, Moser said, “Definitely both. Maryland’s very long and when we get to the rim, that’s when we’ve got to kick it. … There was elbows above the rim. You’ve got to give that part to Maryland. They rotate, they’re long, but we’ve got to be smarter.”
Turgeon has been trying to build his depth with his freshman class. Aside from Wiggins, who wound up playing 30 minutes because Morsell was limited to just 12 minutes after spraining his ankle in warmups, Lindo finished with five rebounds, two points and one blocked shot in 24 minutes and shooting guard Serrel Smith Jr. scored eight points in 17 minutes. In stark contrast, Loyola’s two freshmen starters struggled badly in a combined 53 minutes.