Terps shake off early deficit to top Rut­gers

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

TERPS, points in his team’s 74-72 win Wednes­day over the Corn­huskers, led Mary­land (12-3, 3-1 Big Ten) with 16 points. Cowan fin­ished with 15.

Fresh­man guards Ser­rel Smith Jr. and Eric Ayala each added 11. Fer­nando fin­ished one re­bound shy of his fourth straight dou­ble-dou­ble with 10 points and nine re­bounds. Fer­nando added five as­sists, two blocks and two steals.

“It’s hard to win on the road. To win the way we did is good,” said Tur­geon, whose team will go back on the road Tues­day at Min­nesota. “More im­por­tantly, it’s how we’re play­ing. We’re get­ting bet­ter. We gained a lot of con­fi­dence from get­ting a close win the other night.”

Asked if had pulled Cowan and Fer­nando early to send a mes­sage to them and the rest of his team, Tur­geon said that wasn’t the in­ten­tion.

“I thought Bruno was tired and I thought An­thony was tired dur­ing that stretch,” Tur­geon said. “I think we started mak­ing shots. We got to the foul line. And our de­fense was ter­rific.”

In­stead of pan­ick­ing in a loud road en­vi­ron­ment, the young Terps played with pre­ci­sion. Trail­ing 15-12 af­ter be­ing down 13-7, Mary­land scored on five straight pos­ses­sions to quiet the rau­cous crowd and quell any thoughts of Rut­gers (7-6, 0-3) win­ning its first Big Ten game of the sea­son.

“We knew we were go­ing to get Rut­gers’ best shot, es­pe­cially early,” Tur­geon said. “They had time to get ready for us [hav­ing not played since Dec. 29]. They played great [early in the game]. They had great en­ergy. The build­ing was ter­rific.

“And then we just were re­ally good. We were as good as we’ve been de­fen­sively. We were as good as we’ve been of­fen­sively. We shared the ball and we just fin­ished the half the right way. … To be hon­est with you, I thought we started pretty well con­sid­er­ing we were 2-for-12 to start.“

Asked how im­por­tant it was to build mo­men­tum af­ter Wednes­day’s win, Jalen Smith said, “It’s very im­por­tant. Coach told us that ev­ery team in the Big Ten is a tough team. We just fo­cused on what we did bad the last game and just ex­e­cuted.” Rare Big Ten blowout: The 21-point half­time lead was the largest for the Terps on the road since it joined the Big Ten in 2014-15, one more point than its 40-20 lead at North­west­ern in 2015-16. Un­til the Scar­let Knights (7-6, 0-3) cut into their 69-42 deficit with 5:36 re­main­ing, Mary­land threat­ened to win by its largest mar­gin of vic­tory in a Big Ten road game.

The 20-point win at Rut­gers two years ago re­mains the most one-sided road win for the Terps since join­ing the league with the Scar­let Knights for the 2014-15 sea­son.

“We played a lit­tle bit like a young team in the sec­ond half,” Tur­geon said. “We lost our con­cen­tra­tion a lit­tle bit. … We are who we are. But we are get­ting bet­ter. And we’re tal­ented and we’re fig­ur­ing it out. That’s what’s im­por­tant.”

Given how many close games the Terps seem to play, es­pe­cially in the Big Ten, Cowan ac­knowl­edged it was a lit­tle strange to be up by so many so early.

“Kind of,” he said. “But that’s not an ex­cuse to try to end the game like we should. No team is go­ing to take it easy on us, so why should we take it easy on them?” Build­ing depth: Eight of the 10 play­ers Tur­geon used Sat­ur­day were on the court for dou­ble-digit min­utes and Cowan’s 31 min­utes were a team high.

“Af­ter we lost to Se­ton Hall, I said, ‘We’ve got to build depth. We’re get­ting tired late in games,’ ” Tur­geon said. “We’ve done it and guys have stepped up and played well. … They’re all play­ing with con­fi­dence. Even Ivan [Ben­der]. Ivan had six re­bounds in [13 min­utes].”

The big­gest lift off the bench came from Ser­rel Smith Jr., who pro­vided some of­fen­sive punch and de­fen­sive en­ergy in his 21 min­utes. Smith, who came to Mary­land known mostly as a shooter and ex­plo­sive scorer, hit three of five shots from the field, four of five from the free-throw line and had two steals.

“I think i[hav­ing depth] means a lot,” Cowan said. “We have an­other game on Tues­day, so I think that’s im­por­tant. And Coach was do­ing a re­ally good job at sub­bing. We’ve just got to keep win­ning.” Mathis gets ex­cited: For­mer John Car­roll stand­out Mon­tez Mathis, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound fresh­man shoot­ing guard whom Mary­land had spent time re­cruit­ing, fin­ished with ca­reer highs of 11 points and eight re­bounds to go with three as­sists and two steals in his fifth straight start. He was only one of two play­ers for Rut­gers to be on the court for more points than the Scar­let Knights al­lowed.

“He was fired up, wasn’t he?” Tur­geon said. “There’s so many guys in our area. It seems like ev­ery game we’re play­ing against [guys] that wanted to play at Mary­land. I was happy for him. He’s a great kid. He’s a big piece for them. He re­ally helps them de­fen­sively. He gives them en­ergy.”

At one point, Mathis got tan­gled up with Fer­nando go­ing for a re­bound and the two play­ers had to be sep­a­rated. Mathis did his best to down­play how mo­ti­vated he was play­ing against the Terps.

“The first half of the sea­son, I wasn’t giv­ing all I can give,” Mathis said. “I wanted to start the first game of the New Year off with some in­ten­sity.”

Given the way his team played on the road last sea­son in the Big Ten, win­ning just its first and last game — and the fact that it lost at Pur­due in De­cem­ber — Tur­geon was a bit con­cerned go­ing into Sat­ur­day’s game. That Rut­gers had re­cently lost a close game at Se­ton Hall and had been off since Dec. 29 added to his wor­ries. Win­ning in a rout, a rar­ity for the Terps in the Big Ten the past two sea­sons, should help Tur­geon and his play­ers head­ing to Min­neapo­lis for what is ex­pected to be a much tougher game.

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