EAST LANSING, MICH. — The most one-sided loss in Mark Turgeon’s tenure at Maryland didn’t seem as bad as others the Terps have suffered in the past seven years. The Terps played No. 1 Michigan State tough the first 15 minutes until foul trouble on Maryland’s big men and hot shooting by the Spartans put the game quickly out of hand.
While some Maryland fans are reacting to the 30-point blowout as they did when the Terps lost by 41 at Duke in 2008-2009 — with a lot of vitriol directed at Turgeon now as it was at future Hall-of-Famer Gary Williams then — the most important thing is how fast Maryland can put this in the past.
Here’s the reality: Even before season-ending injuries to forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender shortened Turgeon’s bench, even before foul trouble limited senior Michal Cekovsky to just 11 minutes Thursday, even before the Spartans hit 16 3-point shots, this was a perfect storm ready to swallow up the Terps.
Playing on one day’s rest, something Big Ten teams are being forced to do three times this season because of the league’s unfortunate choice to condense the season in order to play the post-season tournament at Madison Square Garden, puts a strain on the deepest of college teams.
Having to go to play well-rested Michigan State — the Spartans hadn’t played since Monday — on its homecourt was a recipe for a rout. In truth, Maryland fans should really wonder why the offense hadn’t looked as good all season as it did in those first 15 minutes.
Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland’s 91-61 defeat:
Turgeon seriously needs to start thinking about making zone defenses a nightly option.
As a disciple of Larry Brown and a branch in Dean Smith’s coaching tree, Turgeon has always talked about how much he abhors his teams playing zone defense. But there comes a time when even the most traditional and stubborn coaches have to go away from what made them successful.
One of the potential strengths of Maryland’s big lineup with Cekovsky and 6-10 freshman Bruno Fernando could be in its ability to keep teams from attacking the rim, as the Spartans did in the second half and Penn State did at times on Tuesday.
On top of that, Cekovsky’s penchant for foul trouble when playing against skilled post players has always been an issue, and the Terps can’t afford both he and Fernando spending long stretches on the bench, as happened Thursday. Reserves Sean Obi and Joshua Tomaic played hard, but they don’t scare anybody.
This is not to say that Turgeon should suddenly go the route Jim Boeheim did all those years ago, when a 2-3 zone turned a coach who was often criticized for his team's lack of defensive prowess into a Hall of Famer.
But when the Terps play teams that can score inside such as Michigan State, Purdue and even Minnesota, they need to force their opponents to beat them with 3-point shooting. That’s not to say a zone would have helped Maryland pull off an upset at Breslin Center, but the game might have been a lot closer.
Cowan and Huerter need help from a third scoring option.
If not for the way sophomore guards Anthony Cowan Jr. and Kevin Huerter played against the Spartans Thursday, the Terps might have lost by 50.
While he took little solace out of a 26-point performance that ranks among his best at Maryland, Cowan showed why he might be one of the best guards in the Big Ten and why, with time, he might be just as good if not better than Melo Trimble over his career.
Huerter demonstrated why NBA scouts think he can play at that level down the road. In scoring 14 of his 16 points in the first 12 ½ minutes, Huerter’s shotmaking, creativity and underrated athletic ability were on full display.
The problem is that they had no help.
While freshman Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) had a quiet night, finishing with just two points on 1-of-5 shooting, he expended a lot of energy early trying to defend preseason Big Ten player of the year Miles Bridges despite giving away a few inches and pounds.
The same excuse can’t be used by redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley or senior wing Jared Nickens, who were a combined 2 of 10 (2 of 7 on 3-pointers) and didn’t close out very well on the players they were trying to guard from taking 3-point shots.
If Maryland is going to have any chance of being an NCAA tournament team, one of these two upperclassmen is going to have to start showing up every game. They have done it occasionally against lower-level teams; it’s time they did it in the Big Ten.
Maryland didn’t lose Thursday night because of the refs, but the first half demonstrated why Big Ten officials are just like their brethren across the country in favoring the favorites and seemingly being at least a little intimidated by coaching legends such as Hall-of-Famer Tom Izzo.
It was the same as when Maryland was in the ACC, and has been like that during the four years since the Terps joined the Big Ten. Even Williams didn’t get a fair shake on calls until Maryland — particularly against Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski — became one of the best teams in the country.
Consider what happened in Maryland’s last two games.
On Tuesday, the Terps went to the line 34 times against Penn State, which shot just four free throws. Nittany Lions coach Pat Chambers was diplomatic in talking about the huge discrepancy, and Turgeon admitted that Maryland got what he called a “good whistle.”
While both teams wound up shooting 15 free throws on Thursday, Maryland took just one of them in the first half despite having a similar gameplan of attacking the rim as it did at Xfinity Center. Certainly the Spartans are a much better defensive team than Penn State, but the tilt in calls toward Izzo and his team was obvious.
Here’s a prediction: The Terps will shoot more free throws at home Sunday against Iowa than the Hawkeyes. Maybe even a lot more if they keep going to the basket and not settling for 3-point shots, something this year’s team hasn’t done as much as some of the others Turgeon has coached at Maryland.