After spending much of the season turning the emotions of their fans inside-out, the Terps finally did that with their offense in a 79-56 victory over Howard at Xfinity Center.
The same kind of zone that seemed so perplexing against Richmond at the Barclays Center over Thanksgiving weekend, and a variation that caused problems in Saturday's one-point win at home over Oklahoma State, was solved midway through the first half and early in the second half.
Junior center Michal Cekovsky, who started in place of injured senior Damonte Dodd, was the beneficiary of the inside passing, as he converting several dishes into a 10-point first half en route to a team-high 16 points, tying his career-high.
Junior guard Jaylen Brantley, who played a pivotal role in Saturday's comeback win, added 14 off the bench, also tying a career high.
As a team, Maryland (9-1) had a season-high 20 assists. After making only five of 15 3-pointers in the first half, the Terps finished 12-of-30.
Freshman guard Charles Williams led Howard (1-6) with 21 points.
The result was the first true blowout since a 93-45 win over Division III St. Mary’s on Nov. 17.
“I don’t know if the looks were any better in the second half, because we had some great looks in the first half. We were wide-open,” said Turgeon, whose team led at halftime, 38-31. “One of our keys was to play inside-out, and our guys weren’t doing it.”
After freshman wing Kevin Huerter found Cekovsky for a dunk on Maryland’s first possession, the Terps reverted back to recent form by taking the first open 3-pointer that came their way. It resulted in 14 of the team’s first 19 shots coming from long-range.
“I think we may have stopped looking for him,” Huerter said. “We had a stretch there, we missed a bunch of threes, we shot more threes than we wanted to and that was something Coach Turgeon said during a timeout. We wanted to get the ball into Ceko and let him make plays, and he did.”
Turgeon said that after what has become a routine at halftime – him yelling at his players – the Terps responded. Huerter found fellow freshman Anthony Cowan for a layup and Cekovsky for a dunk before hitting a 3-point shot.
Maryland started the second half by scoring on its first four possessions. They found Cekovsky inside or moved the ball around the perimeter for 3-point shots.
Asked if he thought the team was settling for 3-point shots in the first 10 minutes of the game, Brantley said, “I don’t think we were settling, because they were open shots. We could have drove the ball more and played inside-out more at the beginning, but I thought we played really well.”
Cekovsky, who got into early foul trouble and wasn’t a factor in the win over Oklahoma State on Saturday, didn’t pick up his third personal foul until the game was well in hand in the second half Wednesday. He finished the night making eight of nine shots, including a couple of lob dunks.
“I’m trying to always stay out of foul trouble, but the key was playing inside-out, we did a good job with that,” Cekovsky said. “We won the game because of that.”
One of the lobs came late in the first half after Maryland called a timeout. In the huddle, Turgeon called a play that had forward L.G. Gill set a baseline screen to free Cekovsky, who used all of his elevated 7-foot-1 frame to catch a high pass from Brantley.
“It worked well. It was nice,” Cekovky said with a grin.
It was Cekovsky’s first start of the season, and only the third start of his career. Injured for much of the preseason, Cekovsky missed the first four games of the season with a sprained foot. He also had 16 points off the bench against Kansas State.
“Ceko was moving towards becoming a starter, to be honest with you, the way he was playing,” Turgeon said. “I talk to Ceko more than anybody and I coach Ceko harder than anybody, maybe on the whole team. He probably hears my voice in his sleep. There’s a lot of potential there.”
The same might be said about Turgeon’s team, especially when it listens.