Terps freshman Justin Jackson learning to look for more than just points

Maryland's Justin Jackson doesn't need to score to be happy. But he's doing that quite well, too.

In the visiting locker room after the Maryland men's basketball team's Jan. 14 come-from-behind victory at Illinois, forward Justin Jackson was as joyful as any of his teammates. Recalling the postgame scene inside Champaign's State Farm Center a few days later, Terps assistant coach Dustin Clark marveled at the freshman's maturity.

"He was the happiest guy in the locker room," Clark said, "even though he didn't score."

Jackson had contributed in other ways, particularly on the defensive end. Saddled with two early fouls that caused him to sit out most of the first half, Jackson watched as Illinois forward Leron Black hit all five shots he took before halftime.

In the second half, the long-armed Jackson smothered Black, helping to limit him to one late basket in five attempts. Thanks to the equally tight defense fellow freshman Kevin Huerter played on Malcolm Hill (5-for-14 shooting) and junior guard Jaylen Brantley's 12 points, the Terps overcame an early eight-point deficit and added to their still-growing list of second-half comebacks.

Jackson acknowledged that he was "focused too much on scoring" going into the game, leading to the two quick fouls. After No. 25 Maryland's next game, an 84-76 victory Thursday at Iowa, Jackson said he came out with a different approach.

"This game, I came out with the mindset that I'm not going to think about scoring. If I get my buckets, I get my buckets," Jackson said after the Terps beat the Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, needing to rally again after blowing a 15-point first-half lead.

Jackson on Monday was named Big Ten co-freshman of the week, sharing the honor with Purdue guard Carsen Edwards.

With four assists in the first half against Iowa, it was Jackson's passing that set the tone for the game offensively.

Maryland finished with a season-high 23 assists on 30 field goals, helping offset 21 turnovers, which tied a season high. The Terps also shot nearly 57 percent from the field, including 11-for-23 on 3-pointers.

Jackson wound up with a remarkably productive stat line: Along with the four assists, he finished with 12 points, a team-high nine rebounds, a career-high six steals and two blocks in 28 minutes. He also helped Huerter, who had early foul trouble, contain Iowa star Peter Jok (4-for-12 shooting).

"I was really focused on scoring the last couple of games, and that's when I feel my game deters," Jackson said. "Once I open up my mind, I'm a player that can affect the game in different types of ways. We've got a lot of scorers. I feel If I get a couple of assists and steals, eventually, everything will fall into place."

Jackson's versatility was not a surprise to his teammates. They have seen it since the moment he stepped onto campus last summer.

Joining Huerter and fellow freshman Anthony Cowan in the starting lineup after scoring 21 points against Georgetown two games into the season, Jackson is averaging 10.3 points and a team-high six rebounds per game for Maryland (17-2, 5-1) going into Tuesday's home game against Rutgers (12-8,1-6).

"He's very versatile," said Brantley, who pitched in with 10 points off the bench against Iowa. "I think he's one of the best freshmen in the country. He does it all for us. He doesn't complain. He doesn't ask too much. He just does whatever Coach [Mark Turgeon] wants him to do."

That has long been Jackson's attitude, dating to his earliest days playing basketball in East York, Ontario.

"That's just the mindset I've always grown up with," Jackson said Thursday. "It was something my coach always instilled in me ever since he saw that gift I have in my passing ability and court vision. That's something I ran with"

Jordan McFarlane, who coached Jackson at The Hill Academy in Ontario and has known him for more than a decade, said after Maryland signed the 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward in late May that he could be just as much a facilitator as a finisher at the college level.

"He's always been a very unselfish kid," McFarlane said. "He's always had a lot of attention on him, but he's always wanted to shed some light on his teammates. His strongest attribute is his passing ability and his basketball IQ, always wanting to make guys look better. He doesn't want to hog all the limelight. He wants to be that guy who shares the spotlight with his teammates."

The combination of Jackson's 7-3 wingspan and his ability to put the ball on the floor has made him a difficult matchup at times for bigger, slower power forwards in the league. His ability to shoot it from 3-point range — his 40.7 percent accuracy on 54 attempts leads the team — helps open the floor for others.

What is most striking is his demeanor. While Cowan and Huerter have occasionally showed snippets of frustration that is typical of freshmen, Jackson is typically stone-faced, at least outside the locker room. Asked Thursday about the Terps' third straight Big Ten road win, Jackson didn't blink.

"Me, personally, I don't think about one game being bigger than the other," he said. "I just take it one game at a time. To me, it was another stop on the road. Whether it was home or away, we've got to do what we've got to do. "

don.markus@baltsun.com

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