The guards for the Maryland men’s basketball team got some motivation from an unlikely source — their opponent Friday night.
Hours before the Terps’ game against Marshall, a video circulated inside the locker room of Thundering Herd sophomore forward Jannson Williams criticizing the Maryland guards. In the video posted on Twitter by Marshall’s official account, Williams said, “We’ve got to control their bigs. As soon as we control their bigs, their guards aren’t very good. We’ve got elite guards.”
Williams may have to readjust his view after the Terps’ starting guard trio of Anthony Cowan Jr., Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell combined for 56 points in a convincing 104-67 win over Marshall before an announced 11,711 at Xfinity Center.
The Terps scored in triple figures since a 100-65 win over Ohio State on Jan. 16, 2016.
Maryland improved to 6-0 for the fourth time in five years, but much of the talk among the players after the win was about Williams’ musings.
“I don’t know why he said that,” said Cowan, the junior who led all scorers with 26 points and added seven rebounds. “That was just a bad thing to say. The video went around the locker room when he said that, and it just didn’t go well.”
Sophomore forward Bruno Fernando said Williams gave the players the inspiration they needed before the game.
“We didn’t talk anything bad to them,” he said. “We saw that. We heard everybody talking about it. We just made sure we laid it out on the floor. Every time we did something, we noticed they’ve got to pay attention to the point guards because I think their main focus was just the big guys on the front line. … I’m happy they stepped up.”
Cowan ended the night just one point shy of his career high of 27 points from a 92-91 overtime win at Illinois on Dec. 3, 2017. He did make a career-best 10 field goals, tied a season-high in assists with six, and helped limit Thundering Herd senior guard Jon Elmore to six points on 2-for-14 shooting.
Ayala, a freshman, scored a career-best 20 points, eclipsing his previous career best of 14 points from an 80-69 win against Hofstra on Nov. 16. He notched career highs in 3-pointers (five) and total field goals made (six).
At one point during the game, he asked coach Mark Turgeon if he trusted him.
“I know my coach and my teammates trust me, but sometimes just hearing them say it is a different feeling,” he said. “It wasn’t like I had no confidence in myself. It was like, I know my coach has got my back at the end of the day.”
Morsell, a sophomore from Baltimore who graduated from Mount Saint Joseph, chipped in 10 points and five rebounds and has now reached double figures in each of his past five games.
Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni praised the Terps’ guard play.
“They played outstanding tonight,” said D’Antoni, the older brother of Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. “[Cowan] was great. He took the ball down the floor, and he kept pushing through our stuff. We have some good tape to help us get better. They gave us a lot of good teaching points, and hopefully we’ll take advantage of that.”
Entering the game, the Terps had shot 27.4 percent from 3-point range. Against the Thundering Herd (4-1), they shot 56.3 percent (9-for-16), including 6-for-7 from Ayala and Cowan.
“We’ve got good shooters,” Turgeon said. “Guys are just getting more comfortable. … We didn’t take a lot of them, we took good ones. It’s nice to make them. We worked at it, and we have good shooters. So it’s good to see.”
All five of the Terps’ starters finished with double digits in points. Fernando had 18 points, a career-high-tying 16 rebounds and a career-high-tying four blocks. Freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) contributed 10 points and five rebounds.
The Terps broke open a close game with about four minutes left in the first half, embarking on a 15-4 run to enjoy a 53-38 advantage at halftime. They further distanced themselves from Marshall by scoring the first 13 points of the second half, and the rout was on.
Turgeon was pleased with his team’s performance, but also understood that the next four games against No. 4 Virginia, Big Ten foe Penn State, No. 24 Purdue and 2017-18 Final Four Cinderella Loyola Chicago will be a tougher test.
“We’re getting better,” Turgeon said. “We’ve got to be realistic here. We’re playing five young guys in our top eight. So we’ve got to be realistic. It was good to play well, and it’s great for us because it gives us confidence. We’re getting better. That’s really what matters. I don’t know how good we are. We’re going to find out next week.”
Williams scored a career-best 24 points on 9-for-11 shooting, including 6-for-7 from 3-point range, to lead Thundering Herd.
Notes: The Terps improved to 4-2 all-time against Marshall and have won the past four meetings. … The Terps’ 104 points were the most scored under Turgeon and the highest total since Feb. 9, 2011 in a 106-54 thrashing of Longwood. … Elmore moved into third place in program history in scoring and is 14 points shy of reaching 2,000.