COLLEGE PARK – For much of Sunday night’s game against University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Maryland guard Anthony Cowan played an aggressive, confident brand of basketball. In the early minutes, Cowan rejected a UMES shot and knifed through the lane to draw a hard foul right after the Hawks had pulled to within 10 – a lead too close for liking midway through the first half. He made those two free throws and followed that with a coast-to-coast layup and a nifty up-and-under reverse lay-in off the glass to push the lead to 15.
Even after Maryland ballooned its lead by the minute in the 96-43 throttling of UMES, Cowan never eased up and eventually finished with a team-high 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting, nine rebounds and three steals in 25 minutes. A year after Maryland lost its face of the program in Melo Trimble, who accounted for 71 percent of the team’s ball screens in 2016-17, uncertainty has clouded the Terrapins heading into this season and media projections have them as a top-three Big Ten team to borderline NCAA tournament unit.
While he failed to record an assist and missed both of his two attempts from deep on Sunday, Cowan added assurance in a time of experimenting and scrutiny that life without the ball-dominant Trimble is on track to be just fine.
Anthony Cowan is still fast in case you were wondering pic.twitter.com/X8RRKKynPr
— Terps Watch (@TerpsWatch) November 12, 2017
“He’s playing really well,” Turgeon said of Cowan after his most lopsided win at Maryland. “He’s defending well and getting some steals out there. He’s rebounding. Of course, I’m going to tease him for having zero assists … but no, he’s playing great with everything he’s doing. And he’s really an extension of me as far as what calls we want to play and how we want to run. He’s been good. A great start to the season for him.”
In Friday’s win against Stony Brook, Cowan scored a team-high 15 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished four assists. Though it’s a small sample size against two inferior opponents, he’s limited his turnover rate, even with the ball in his hands more (three turnovers 47 minutes of action; averaged 3.2 turnovers per 40 minutes in 2016-17).
At media day two weeks ago, Cowan’s former high school teammate from St. John’s (D.C.), Reese Mona — a reserve on this year’s Terps team — admitted the sophomore guard has heightened confidence given there’s more leeway as the showrunner. Mona acknowledged Trimble’s guidance has gotten Cowan to this point — the leading scorer and go-to quarterback — but now there’s not a ball-handler and facilitator he has to defer to.
Cowan’s eight of nine rebounds came in the first half and spurred Maryland’s dominance with a 44-18 halftime lead in which they shot 70 percent from the floor (14-for-20) while holding UMES to 30.8 percent (8-for-26).
“I think having that year under my belt is really helping me. I’m playing with a lot more confidence now; just knowing what Coach Turgeon wants is very helpful,” Cowan said.
After UMES’s Cameron Bacote dropped the game’s first points on a mid-range jumper, Maryland reeled off a 12-0 run hi ghlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers from Dion Wiley, who finished the night with 13 points in 26 minutes off the bench.
Wiley was one of many Terps who benefitted from the experimental night as tough games against Butler (Wednesday), Bucknell (Saturday) and Syracuse await. Jared Nickens scored 15 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting and 4-for-4 from deep in 18 minutes. Freshman guard Darryl Morsell contributed 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes and Sean Obi dropped a pair of putbacks and grabbed six rebounds (five offensive) to round out a bench that outscored UMES 52 to zip.
Turgeon went with Cowan, Kevin Huerter (10 points), Justin Jackson (eight points, six rebounds and four assists), Bruno Fernando (six points, two blocks) and Michal Cekovsky (four points, two blocks) as his starting five on Sunday. Afterward, he noted it was “not very smart” on his part, because of Fernando’s and Cekovsky’s lack of chemistry in the post, which created spacing issues.
“I am trying to figure [the lineups] out and every night is going to be different since different guys will play will,” Turgeon said. “If you only have four or five good players and they’re not playing well, you’re in trouble. If I have a couple guys who aren’t playing well, I can sub someone in. We have a lot of choices, which helps.”
Turgeon also noted the main reason why Fernando, fresh off a high ankle sprain, got the starting nod was so he can have a start under his belt. It was Maryland’s largest win since Feb. 9, 2011, when the Terrapins beat Longwood, 106-52.
“I was really proud of my guys to keep concentrating and trying to do the right things,” Turgeon said. “We did a lot of things well. We were good against a zone. We were good against a man. We rebounded well. We shared the ball. … I think we got better tonight, which is good.”
Along with sifting through rotations, Turgeon emphasized the need to rebound, a department Maryland finished 11th in the Big Ten last year. Through two games, Maryland holds an 88-47 advantage on the backboards. On Friday, the Terps outrebounded Stony Brook, 42-26, and on Sunday, they blitzed the glass against the undermanned Hawks (down four starters) and won the rebound battle 46-21, including 16 offensive boards and 24 second chance points.
Coupled with an evolved Cowan, the additions of Fernando, Morsell and Obi are paying dividends early on, but Turgeon and his staff will soon find out its positioning when they host Butler on Wednesday night and the reigning Patriot League champions, Bucknell, on Saturday.
“We just couldn’t [rebound] last year,” Turgeon said. “We’re just a lot bigger, stronger, more mature team. I think that’s really showed. I think Stony Brook, the way we played that game, it was pretty terrific; playing up there in New York. I thought they were a pretty good team; really hard to guard. I thought we did some really nice things. That’s going to be very important for us.
“I do think we can be a great offensive team over time because of our spacing and the players we have. It’s a good start. We’ll get tested this week to see how good we really are.”