Maryland soldiers on despite quick turnaround heading into game at No. 1 Michigan State

The condensed Big Ten schedule, caused by the decision to hold the conference tournament a week earlier in order to play at Madison Square Garden in New York, has resulted in a number of situations where one team has a decided advantage over its opponent.

Of the three instances where Maryland will have played two games in a three-day span in the Big Ten, perhaps the biggest disadvantage the Terps face comes Thursday night when they meet No. 1 Michigan State in East Lansing.


Mayland (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) had just one day off after its 75-69 home win over Penn State, meaning little rest and virtually no practice for the Spartans. Michigan State (14-1, 2-0) has been off since beating Savannah State by 56 points on Sunday at the Breslin Center.

Since grade school, the Terps sophomore had spun the ball in his hands at the foul line, taken three dribbles, then shot. That was then. This is now.

Since losing in the second game of the year to then-No. 1 Duke, the Spartans have won 13 straight by an average of 28.5 points a game, including back-to-back 18-point victories over then-No. 9 North Carolina and then-No. 5 Notre Dame in November. The Spartans’ only close game during the winning streak has been a 10-point win at Rutgers on Dec. 5.


“Every night is going to be a challenge for us,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after the win over the Nittany Lions, a game the Terps trailed by five points with 6:22 left. “You watched us. We played as hard as heck tonight. And we tried as hard as we could.

“We were lucky to win. Yeah, we’ve got some challenges that lie ahead of us. We’ll figure it out. I’ve got a good group that‘s willing and even if Michigan State played three nights in a row, they didn’t play us. It doesn’t matter, they’re a heck of a team. So we’ve got to be ready.”

The lack of depth that was amplified by last week’s season-ending injuries to forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender led to 7-foot-1 center Michal Cekovsky and 6-10 freshman Bruno Fernando playing career highs of 29 and 32 minutes, respectively, against the Nittany Lions.

Sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. played all 40 minutes and freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) played 34. Sophomore guard Kevin Huerter should be the freshest of the starters after early foul trouble limited him to just 26 minutes, all but six in the second half.

That Maryland has only nine healthy scholarship players and that two of them, redshirt freshman forward Joshua Tomaic and graduate transfer center Sean Obi, were barely used against Penn State led to the Terps playing at a much slower pace than they have for much of the season.

“Obviously our bench isn’t as long anymore, so we have to slow it down sometimes and let everybody catch their breath, and try to find the best way to score,” said Cowan, who led Maryland with 18 points. “If that’s what it takes to win, that’s what we’ll have to do.”

A positive byproduct of the slower, halfcourt offense the Terps played was that they committed a season-low five turnovers. Maryland came into Tuesday averaging 16.5 turnovers, last in the Big Ten and close to the bottom of Division I.

“Every possession is important, so you’ve just got to make sure that we try to score and not turn the ball over,” Cowan said. “It’s hard to do, especially in conference play when every play [a team runs] almost is scouted. I think we executed when we needed to.”

The Terps still can’t afford to wear out their healthy players.

The combination of 7-1 senior Michal Cekovsky and 6-10 freshman Bruno Fernando produced 27 points and 17 rebounds in Maryland's 75-69 win over Penn State.

While Turgeon said Cowan is in good enough shape to play 40 minutes — “He could play another 40 right now,” Turgeon said after the game — he is aware that Cekovsky and Fernando might not be able to play consistently as much as they did Tuesday.

Both players have a history of injuries. Cekovsky spent much of last season in and out of the lineup after a slow recovery from a groin injury, then sat out the last month after breaking his ankle. Fernando had some nagging knee injuries in high school, then sprained both ankles after coming to Maryland.

“I think it all depends on who we’re playing,” Turgeon said of his frontcourt rotation. “Obviously we’re playing a pretty big team on Thursday. … But I thought Josh gave us good minutes [in the five he was out there]. It’s going to be a slow process with him, getting him in there, getting more confident.”


Said Cekovsky: “Obviously, everybody knows we got unlucky with the injuries. … I think we’re still kind of deep, even with those injuries on the bench. I think we had a really good game, so it feels good.”

The schedule will eventually work in favor of Maryland. When the Spartans make a return trip to College Park later this month, it will be two days after hosting Wisconsin and will be their third game in seven days. With five days off after playing at Indiana before that Jan. 28 game, the Terps should be rested and primed from practice.

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