COLLEGE PARK — On Dec. 12, 2007, almost exactly a decade before the Maryland men’s basketball team’s game Thursday night against Ohio, the teams met in a Wednesday game in College Park.
Those Terps had Greivis Vasquez and James Gist. They had a full house in attendance. They did not have, however, what it took to avoid just the program’s fourth nonconference home loss in the previous 19 seasons, falling, 61-55, early in a season bound for the National Invitation Tournament.
On Thursday, the Terps did not have sophomore forward Justin Jackson at full strength. They had nowhere near a full house in attendance. But a problem with the Bobcats, they did not have, handling the visitors from the Mid-American Conference, 87-62.
Of more immediate concern to the announced 12,914 at Xfinity Center was the health of Bruno Fernando. The freshman center suffered a low right ankle sprain, coach Mark Turgeon said, after he went up for a rebound next to Terps junior guard Dion Wiley with about 11 minutes remaining in the second half.
After lying facedown on the floor for about a minute, he had to be helped off the floor by Jackson and Maryland athletic trainer Matt Charvat, and later limped to the locker room. Turgeon said Fernando, who suffered a high left ankle sprain in the preseason, will “probably” miss Saturday’s game against Gardner-Webb and Tuesday night’s game against Division III Catholic.
“Anytime someone goes down, I think everyone kind of holds their breath because you don't know how serious it's going to be,” said sophomore guard Kevin Huerter, who had a game-high 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting for the Terps (8-3).
Cekovsky’s perfect night: Maryland didn’t need Fernando, not with senior center Michal Cekovsky playing to his potential.
Cekovsky came into the game averaging 5.2 points per game this season. He entered halftime with nearly double that (10 points) and finished with a season-high 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting from the field. He more than tripled his rebounding average (2.6 per game), collecting eight misses, a team high and a season best.
Circumstances dictated his emergence. The tallest player to see the court for Ohio was just 6 feet 9, and with the Bobcats determined to clog the lane against point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (12 points, seven assists), the 7-1 Cekovsky had healthy servings of post touches.
“Ceko's a huge piece to our team, so we need him to contribute as much as possible, and he did that tonight,” Cowan said. “That's big for us. We need to try to get his confidence up as much as possible, because we need him.”
Not at full strength: Jackson, who had started in all of the Terps’ first 10 games this season, was on the bench for tipoff Thursday. Jackson was ill Wednesday and did not finish practice, a team spokesman said.
In his place was freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph), who made his first start of the season and had eight points and four rebounds.
Jackson was part of the first batch of substitutions along with Fernando. After maybe his best performance of the season — a 20-point, 8-for-13 outing at Illinois — he looked, in the early going, as if he’d stay hot.
But he followed a 3-for-5 start with an 0-for-6 finish, ending with 10 points, five rebounds and three turnovers.
“He's going to hit shots,” Cowan said. “That's nothing I'm worried about. He's going to hit shots. I think he had a really good overall game today. He was hitting shots, but he was also defending really well, rebounding like he always does, so when he has all those going for him, he's a really good player.”
Starting fast — again: Slow starts hamstrung the Terps for the first three weeks of the season, particularly in losses to St. Bonaventure, Syracuse and Purdue.
But for the second straight game, the Terps looked ready to play. After racing out to a 10-0 start Sunday at Illinois, Maryland hit its first five shots and both free throws as it took a 13-2 lead into the first media timeout. The Terps led by as many as 17 in the first half and 26 in the second.
“The last two games, we've started really well,” Turgeon said. “We really talked about playing 40 minutes tonight. We didn't play 40, but we're getting closer. Defensively, we probably played 34 minutes pretty well for us, and then offensively, we were probably around 28, 29, 30, so we're getting closer. That's pretty good.”
No-shows: There were more than a few empty seats at Xfinity Center. Over its first five home games, Maryland had averaged an announced attendance of 15,097.
A midweek game against a MAC team did not have the same appeal. At tipoff, the arena’s west wall had only a smattering of students, and the lower bowl was nowhere close to full.
Big problems: With a comfortable advantage midway through the first half, Turgeon rolled out a big lineup: the 6-foot-4 Morsell, 6-7 senior wing Jared Nickens, 6-7 Jackson, 6-9 junior forward Ivan Bender and 7-1 senior center Cekovsky. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Terps scored just once and committed three turnovers.
Overall, the Terps finished with 19 giveaways. Wiley had a game-high five, and Cowan, Morsell and Fernando each had three.
Quick turnaround: The Terps have less than 48 hours before their next game. They’ll welcome Big South Conference program Gardner-Webb to College Park on Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. tipoff.
The Runnin' Bulldogs (3-7) have lost by at least 25 to No. 5 Florida, No. 10 Miami and Auburn this year.