University of Maryland mens basketball coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team defeating Penn State, 75-69. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
COLLEGE PARK — It won’t go down with Maryland beating Michigan State in its first-ever Big Ten men’s basketball game, and it won’t be as memorable as Melo Trimble’s last-second game-winning 3-pointer against the Spartans at Xfinity Center in what turned out to be the former star point’s guard final home game.
Still, it’s fair to say that Tuesday night’s win over Penn State was the most important victory of the season for the heretofore underwhelming Terps and one of coach Mark Turgeon’s biggest wins in seven years at Maryland given what transpired last week and for the first 30 minutes.
The win certainly takes a little pressure off the Terps going into their quick turnaround game at No. 1 Michigan State on Thursday night. And, given the lineup changes, it revealed how Maryland will try to play the rest of the season.
Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland’s 75-69 win over the Nittany Lions:
After trying to play faster after the departure of Trimble, the Terps have been sloppy with the ball for much of the season. Except for the loss in the Big Ten opener against Purdue, when Maryland turned the ball over seven times, the Terps have had trouble maintaining possession.
Playing against a Penn State team that was averaging a league-best 9.4 steals a game, the Terps committed a season-low five turnovers. Sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. made two in 40 minutes, and freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) had none in 34.
The change in tempo was directly related to the season-ending injuries to forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender last week, and the fact that Maryland will try to take advantage of its size with the pairing of 7-foot-1 senior Michal Cekovsky and 6-10 freshman Bruno Fernando.
While the offense didn’t exactly look crisp, especially in the first half after sophomore guard Kevin Huerter took an early seat because of two quick fouls, the decision to slow things down might eventually help Maryland in the long run.
Trimble had several games during his career in which he shot poorly before making huge shots down the stretch. The guard would often say the mentality of a shooter is always think the next shot is going in even if he missed his first 10.
Morsell missed his first eight shots, including air-balling his only two 3-point attempts. So what did the uber-confident freshman do with the Terps down three with 4:36 remaining in the game? He hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game.
Open in the corner right in front of the Maryland bench, Morsell swished a 3-pointer to tie the game. After a dunk by Cekovsky gave Maryland the lead it wouldn’t lose, Morsell hit a shot in the lane and later made two free throws for a 70-66 lead.
If Morsell can get a reliable outside shot — something he has worked on so much that he often ices the wrist on his right hand after practice — he’s going to become a much more difficult player to stop. While his confidence is Melo-like, his ability to drive and score in traffic is more reminiscent of Dez Wells’.
With the second of three quick turnarounds when the Terps play on just one day’s rest — essentially without any real practice time — coming up Thursday at No. 1 Michigan State, the minutes the Maryland starters played against Penn State could affect the outcome in East Lansing.
Aside from Cowan playing all 40 minutes, and Morsell playing 34, Fernando played a career-high 32 and Cekovsky played a career-high 29. Of the starters, only sophomore forward Kevin Huerter was well below his average, but 20 of his 26 minutes came in the second half.
While senior guard Jared Nickens played a solid 20 minutes, finishing with three points, four rebounds and the team’s only blocked shot while finally displaying some defensive tenacity, redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley hit one 3-pointer and had three fouls in 14 minutes.
Turgeon acknowledged after the game that he has to find a way to get redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic more time. Tomaic played just five minutes, but he managed to score on a drive off a pass from Huerter and had an assist.
The odd man out was graduate transfer Sean Obi. Unless Cekovsky and Fernando get into foul trouble, which will happen, the former Rice and Duke player is probably not going to get much time as long as the other big men produce.
Considering the way the Spartans play, and the fact that they could likely get the same kind of friendly officiating at the Breslin Center on Thursday that the Terps received Tuesday at Xfinity Center, Obi will likely play some this week.