COLLEGE PARK — In its first three seasons playing in the Big Ten, Maryland had never lost a conference opener going into Friday’s game against Purdue.
Starting with a double-overtime win at Michigan State in 2014-15, the Terps were a combined 14-1 starting Big Ten play.
They were also a combined 35-3 going into their first league game, compared to 6-2 this season, with two losses in three games.
With the early start to the Big Ten schedule because of the league’s regular season ending a week earlier than normal, Maryland did not have as much time to prepare as in the past.
Though fans are rightfully discouraged by the recent results, there are several directions this season can turn for the Terps as they head to Illinois on Sunday before going back to nonconference play for the remainder of the month.
Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland’s 80-75 loss to Purdue:
1. Mark Turgeon needs to book a 2018 summer tour instead of talking about opponents who did that having an advantage on the Terps.
Going into Friday’s game, and coming out, Turgeon made a point to mention how much further ahead of his Terps the Boilermakers were because they had played together last summer.
It was a reference to Purdue representing the United States in the World University Games, as the Maryland women’s team did this past summer. Turgeon wasn’t wrong.
But Turgeon had said the same exact thing before the Terps had played Butler in the Gavitt Tipoff Games a few weeks ago. It turned out to be a moot point after Maryland prevailed, 79-65.
Since the NCAA allows teams to go on summer tours once every four years, next summer will be a perfect time. It will have been five years since Maryland played in the Bahamas in the summer of 2013.
Also, with a big recruiting class that currently has three players and could grow to as many as five by the spring, Turgeon can use the time to jump start his 2018-19 team on the competition.
2. Purdue looks like a team that has played a lot together while Maryland looks like a team trying to find the right combinations.
It’s not just that Purdue played together last summer.
Even more significant is that the Boilermakers have four seniors along with sophomore guard Carsen Edwards in the starting lineup, a group that played significant minutes and in lots of big games together.
Led by then-sophomore Caleb Swanigan, who was a runaway choice for Big Ten Player of the Year, the Boilermakers won the league by two games last season.
The Terps had one senior in the starting lineup Friday — center Michal Cekovsky, who has still made just 12 starts in his career — along with the three sophomores who were a big part of last year’s team.
While Purdue coach Matt Painter’s team obviously misses Swanigan, the first-round draft pick of the Portland Trail Blazers, Maryland might miss Melo Trimble even more.
The Terps are still looking to integrate two key freshmen, Bruno Fernando and Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph), into the rotation, along with redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley, who hasn’t played much the past two years.
Maryland also needs to find a closer — or a closer by committee — to replace Trimble.
With sophomore forward Justin Jackson still in an early-season shooting slump, going 1-for-8 overall and 0-for-3 on 3-pointers against Purdue, it looks like it will up to fellow sophomores Anthony Cowan Jr. and Kevin Huerter to fill that role.
3. Huerter needs to be a little more selfish and the Terps have to work to get him more shots.
It was a rare concession from both coach and player about how Maryland’s key 3-point shot to tie the game with 14 seconds left went down.
Turgeon said he drew up the play to get Huerter a 3-pointer, but the 6-foot-7 sophomore said senior wing Jared Nickens might get a better look since Purdue’s defense would be helping on Huerter.
Here’s the thing: with Huerter coming off a sensational shooting night (7-for-9 on 3-pointers) in Monday’s loss at Syracuse, the Boilermakers had Huerter in their crosshairs all night and he still managed nine shots.
On one earlier in the game, Huerter hit a double-pump 3-pointer from about 23 feet as Dakota Mathias appeared to hit him on the hand as he shot.
Nickens got a good look from the corner with 14 seconds to go, from the same corner he had hit from earlier. He had come into the game shooting 11-for-20 on 3-pointers, and had made two of three against Purdue.
Part of Maryland’s growth as a team this season is going to be finding not only more shots for Huerter. He is currently averaging 8.8 a game, not even a shot more than he tried as a freshman.
And part of Huerter’s growth as a college star, and potential NBA player, is for him to put the ball in his hands with the game on the line, as Trimble did so often.