Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon talks about the Terps win over Northwestern. (Don Markus/Baltimore Sun video)
COLLEGE PARK — Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon kept insisting over the past few weeks that his Terps were getting better. They seemed like empty words coming from a coach trying to keep his team from collapsing under the pressure of a disappointing, injury-marred season.
On Saturday afternoon, Maryland finally lived up to its coach’s claim.
The Terps never trailed Northwestern, going on runs to start each half, building its lead to as many as 21 points and playing its most complete game of the season in a 73-57 win at Xfinity Center.
“It is a good feeling, because it finally feels like we put together a complete game, it feels like we played pretty well for the most part in both halves,” said sophomore guard Kevin Huerter, who led the Terps with 22 points, five assists and three steals, while making one of his team’s seven blocked shots.
Aside from Huerter, who hit seven of 12 shots and finished one point shy of his season high, sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) added 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Huerter set the tone by scoring 12 points in the game's first 4:32, hitting his first four shots — three 3-pointers and a three-point play off a scooping drive — as the Terps led by as many as 16 points in the first half.
After the Wildcats cut their deficit to five, Huerter’s banked floater to beat the shot clock right before halftime to give the Terps a seven-point lead, which was quickly doubled with a 7-0 run to start the second half.
“Really I thought the start of both halves were huge for them and obviously against us,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins, whose team had won four of its previous five games, including Tuesday’s 61-52 upset of No. 20 Michigan.
The victory was only the third in the past nine games for Maryland (17-10, 6-8 Big Ten), and was its second in three games. The dominant performance helped take some of the tension off a team that was in one of the worst tailspins in Turgeon’s seven seasons coaching the Terps.
Asked how important it was for the morale of his team, Turgeon reflected on the team’s prior two home games, when the Terps blew a 13-point halftime lead on then-No. 5 Michigan State and let a 10-point halftime lead disappear before beating Wisconsin on Sunday.
“We gave the same speech that we gave at the Wisconsin game, and it worked better,” Turgeon said. “We came out and we put it right to [14 points]. … That was a good sign for me that the guys didn’t lose their focus at halftime.
“It’s good to win. It’s hard to win. Really happy for the guys. It’s tough, guys. Losing stinks. What we’ve been through is no fun. Hopefully we’re peaking at the right time.”
Turgeon thought for a moment.
“We are 17-10, if that’s considered losing,” he said with more than a hint of sarcasm.
Considering the Terps’ recent second-half collapses, Cowan said it seemed different to look at the scoreboard and see the big lead hold up right until the end.
“Even at the two-minute mark, I’m thinking they might go on a run,” Cowan said with a smirk.
Cowan had been asked earlier if this was Maryland’s most complete game of the season.
“I would say that,” Cowan said. “About time. That’s all I’ll say about that.”
Shutting down McIntosh
Northwestern senior guard Bryant McIntosh, who had tied his season-high of 24 points in the win over the Wolverines, went scoreless for the first time in his career. McIntosh, a preseason All-Big Ten selection, missed all five shots he took.
“He’s a really good guard. You can’t really let him get in rhythm, where he could be dangerous,” said Cowan, who had help from his teammates when McIntosh tried to get free with ball screens. “I made sure I just stayed in front of him.”
Said Collins: “I think anytime a good player struggles like that, you have to credit the defense. I thought they did a great job of swarming in our pick-and-roll game. I thought for whatever reason he was a step slow with his energy today, but Cowan is quick on the ball.”
Senior guard Scottie Lindsey led Northwestern (15-11, 6-7) with 20 points, but unlike the efficient Huerter, he made eight of 20 shots from the field. As a team, the Wildcats were 19-for-57 overall from the field, including 9-for-24 on 3-pointers.
While Maryland rebounded from a sub-par defensive performance in Wednesday night’s loss at Penn State, the offense continued to shoot well. The Terps finished the game shooting 27-for-51 overall, including 9-for-21 on 3-pointers.
Maryland’s 52.9 percent shooting was the best any team has shot against Northwestern since the Wildcats went to a matchup zone six games ago.
“Honestly, I don’t think we took any plays off, even possessions off,” Cowan said. “We were dialed in the whole game. We played with a lot of energy from the jump ball.”
Getting Cekovsky back
While Maryland’s four-guard offense was the difference in the game — all four scored in double figures, including redshirt junior Dion Wiley with 10 points — the Terps played bigger than they have in a while.
It helped getting 7-foot-1 senior center Michal Cekovsky back for the first time since he suffered a bruised left heel coming down after a dunk in practice on Jan. 30, the day before Maryland traveled to face No. 3 Purdue.
Asked he knew that Cekovsky would play, Turgeon said: “Our guys make their mind up when they’re going to play, and he made his mind up he was going to play. He practiced a little [Friday], was pretty good. I never heard from [the team doctor], so I assumed he was going to play.”
Cekovsky played 15 minutes, finishing with four points on 2-for-3 shooting and a blocked shot. He also helped alter a couple of shots, and was much quicker hedging on ball screens and then getting back into position underneath than graduate center Sean Obi, who had been backing up freshman Bruno Fernando in Cekovsky’s absence.
“I thought he was a little rusty in the game, but it’s good to have him back, just to have that length around the rim,” Turgeon said. “His ball screen defense was terrific. He had a good understanding of what we were doing offensively, too, being an upperclassmen. Hopefully he can stay healthy the rest of the way because we need him."