UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Maryland men’s basketball team’s first road trip of the season was played at a neutral site, before another pro-Terps New York crowd. It wasn’t Madison Square Garden for Connecticut, or Barclays Center for the visits the team has made to Brooklyn.
But at the newly renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Dr. J once soared and Frank Sinatra once sang, most of the announced 3,066 enjoyed Maryland’s 76-61 victory over Stony Brook
While point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. led the Terps with 15 points and wing Kevin Huerter chipped in with 13, it was the way their fellow sophomore, forward Justin Jackson, carved out his third career double double that seemed to be the biggest takeaway from Friday’s season opener.
Jackson, who grew up on the outskirts of Toronto patterning his game after Magic Johnson, looked like his boyhood idol at times in finishing with 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
Unlike his two double doubles last season, which came in back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Ohio State when he poured in 50 points on 17-for-27 shooting, including nine of 12 3-pointers, Jackson didn’t shoot the ball particularly well Friday. He finished four of 11 from the field, and missed all four of his 3-point shots.
But his ability to get on the boards and start the fast break, even finishing it once himself with a scoop layup, showed the kind of running team the Terps could become this season.
“I thought he was aggressive tonight,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “I told him if he gets the rebound, he can bring it up the court. We’ve got multiple guys — Kevin Huerter, Justin, Anthony, Darryl [Morsell], even Dion [Wiley] — if they get rebounds, they can bring it. The break’s much faster. I thought we got better in transition as the game wore on. We’ve been really good in transition the last three years … and I think this team can be even better.”
Turgeon has talked to Jackson about crashing the boards and leading the break for a while.
“To be honest, he’s been telling me that since last season, but I’m just starting to feel more comfortable” running the break, said Jackson, who also had a neat assist to freshman center Bruno Fernando for a dunk. “Going through the [NBA] combine opened up my confidence to play my natural game. [Turgeon] told me, ‘I need you to start grabbing the rebound and pushing the ball up, because it opens up so many different facets of our offense.’ ”
Here are some observations on the opener.
Terps need to find proper pace
Early in the game, Maryland struggled in its half-court offense, especially late in the shot clock. It seemed as if the Terps were still waiting for Melo Trimble to take the ball once the 30-second clock ticked inside 10.
As the first half went on, Maryland seemed to try to play faster, and with the help of a full-court press that tried to speed up Stony Brook, the Terps built their lead to as many as 19 late in the first half and to 18 at halftime. Stony Brook never let the Terps run away completely in the second half, hitting half of their 14 3-point attempts in the final 20 minutes.
“Early, we were nervous, we were shooting the ball over the rim, fumbling the ball. Defensively, we were great,” Turgeon said. “Then we settled in offensively. And I was trying different things offensively. … You just want to get guys time but also get your main guys in shape as you move forward. We were going from big lineups to small lineups and subbing a lot, trying to learn as much as I can.”
Not only are the Terps adjusting to playing without Trimble, they are also working three new players — freshmen Fernando and Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) as well as grad transfer Sean Obi — into the rotation. It’s going to take a little while for Turgeon to figure out his best combinations.
“I thought we played well. I thought we played at a higher level than I thought we could this early,” Turgeon said. “That first half, we were really good. Once we settle down offensively — defensively, we were at a high level; rebounding, we were at a high level. I didn’t plan on playing 11 guys in the first half, but we got in some foul trouble in the post. It just worked out that way. We’re trying to play at a faster pace than we’ve played in the past. We’re still trying to get in shape.”
Fernando’s going to be fun to watch
Though his remarkable preseason progress apparently came to a screeching halt with a sprained left ankle two weeks ago, the 6-10 Angolan showed some glimpses of what’s in store for this season.
Coming off the bench behind redshirt junior Ivan Bender, Fernando was in the middle of two nice runs by the Terps in each half. Just as encouraging is that Fernando seems to play equally hard at both ends.
In the first half, Cowan hit Fernando with a perfect lob from half court for a dunk. When Stony Brook was threatening with a bunch of 3-pointers early in the second half, Fernando ran the court and finished easily. He ended the game with 10 points in 13 minutes.
“You have a large margin of error for Bruno when you throw the ball up. You can kind of toss it up wherever he’s going to go, and he’s going to catch it and finish,” said Huerter. “He bobbled it a couple of times — it was his first game. He’s going to catch and finish those in the future.”
His post-up game also seemed like a work in progress for now. Given the start of the Big Ten Conference schedule schedule in early December, Fernando is going to be depended on soon to give the Terps an inside presence.
Trying to find a role for Wiley
After missing the 2015-16 season with a torn meniscus and being in and out of the lineup last year with more nagging injuries, redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley played the most among the Maryland reserves, finishing with five points, two rebounds and a blocked shot in 25 minutes.
Wiley made his first 3-pointer and hit a tough drive later on to finish with five points, and seemed able to hold his own defensively. If he can be a solid contributor off the bench along with Morsell, it will give Turgeon some backcourt depth he has hasn’t always had in the past couple of years.
“We just didn’t match up very well in our big lineup, and we had to play our guards a lot,” Turgeon said. “Dion’s our next-best guard, in my mind, with the most experience. I think Darryl’s going to be right there, too. I was just trying to get Dion feeling comfortable. I thought he got better as the game went on. We need Dion. I’ve been saying that: We need Dion to be good.”