Trust­ing Cowan mak­ing strides

Point guard build­ing con­fi­dence as he finds com­fort level with Terps

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

COL­LEGE PARK — While many Mary­land fans left Xfin­ity Cen­ter after Fri­day night’s 78-75 vic­tory over No. 22 In­di­ana mar­veling over the per­for­mance by Bruno Fer­nando, Hoosiers sec­ond-year coach Archie Miller was think­ing more about An­thony Cowan Jr.

Both play­ers had car­ried the Terps back from a hor­ren­dous start, dur­ing which In­di­ana scored the game’s first nine points, and later from deficits of 14 points mid­way through the first half and 10 points early in the sec­ond half.

Their fi­nal stats spoke of dom­i­na­tion for most of the sec­ond half, in­clud­ing when the Terps went on a 16-0 run that even­tu­ally helped Mary­land build its lead to as many as 10 points be­fore In­di­ana fresh­man Romeo Lang­ford (28 points) made the score close.

Fer­nando, Mary­land’s man-child sopho­more cen­ter, fin­ished with 17 of his ca­reer-high 25 points in the sec­ond half, to go along with 13 re­bounds and three as­sists. He missed just one of12 shots from the field.

Cowan, the team’s mer­cu­rial ju­nior guard, had 16 of his 24 points after half­time — in­clud­ing six straight free throws in the fi­nal minute to keep the Lang­ford and the Hoosiers at bay — as well as a sea­son-high seven as­sists and five re­bounds.

Asked what turned the game around for both teams, Miller said: “I thought An­thony Cowan took it upon him­self and re­ally started to at­tack. He was at straight lines at the bas­ket [dur­ing the] back part of the first half, and the sec­ond half we had a re­ally hard time for a while con­tain­ing him off the drib­ble.”

It is the way Cowan has played through TV: Ra­dio:

most of his team’s five-game win­ning streak go­ing into Mon­day night’s matchup with Wis­con­sin at Xfin­ity Cen­ter.

In the past four games, the 6-foot, 170-pound Cowan has av­er­aged a shade over 21 points and nearly five as­sists while shoot­ing just un­der 45 per­cent from the field (26-for-58) and 44 per­cent (11-for-25) on 3-point­ers.

“An­thony was re­ally play­ing well [be­fore], but he’s taken it to an­other level,” Mary­land coach Mark Tur­geon said Fri­day. “We knew he would. He wasn’t mak­ing shots the way An­thony can make shots. Now he’s start­ing to make shots. It makes him re­ally hard to guard.”

Miller agreed, re­mem­ber­ing how Cowan strug­gled in last year’s game in Bloom­ing­ton.

In a 71-68 loss to the Hoosiers, Cowan made just six of 18 shots from the field, get­ting sev­eral layups blocked and not get­ting some foul calls. He also missed five of his six 3-point at­tempts, in­clud­ing a rushed 28-footer with six sec­onds left in the game.

“I think he’s a year older, a year stronger, they’ve got a good sys­tem, they’ve got good play­ers around him so he has space to play,” Miller said Fri­day. “He’s a re­ally tough cover in terms of one-on-one. … I thought last year we did a much bet­ter job be­ing phys­i­cal with him.”

If there was a way to mea­sure body lan­guage, Cowan has made a big jump in that depart­ment as well this sea­son. Known to pout when things didn’t go his way his first two sea­sons, Cowan ap­pears to fi­nally em­brace the role as leader rather than just lead­ing scorer.

Since the start of pre­sea­son work­outs, Tur­geon has talked about Cowan be­ing a “new An­thony.”

A lot of it comes from the trust he has in team­mates. Not only in Fer­nando, who as a sopho­more has be­come per­haps the best cen­ter in the Big Ten, but also in sopho­more Dar­ryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) and the four fresh­men who make up much of Mary­land’s eight-player ro­ta­tion.

“I think it’s know­ing that we have a core of guys that are just re­ally good bas­ket­ball play­ers,” Cowan said in a tele­phone in­ter­view Sun­day. “I just know when it’s my job to give them the ball. I have ul­ti­mate trust they’re go­ing to ac­com­plish [what they’re sup­posed to do.]”

That wasn’t al­ways the case a year ago, when Cowan and fel­low sopho­more guard Kevin Huerter were forced to carry the team of­fen­sively for most of the sea­son, first when an­other sopho­more, for­ward Justin Jack­son, started off in a hor­ren­dous shoot­ing slump and then after Jack­son was side­lined the sec­ond half of the sea­son after un­der­go­ing shoul­der surgery.

With the emer­gence of Fer­nando, and the ar­rival of for­ward Jalen Smith [Mount Saint Joseph] and the other fresh­men, even an off-night for Cowan is not a calamity.

Ev­i­dence of that came in the 78-64 win over Rad­ford on Dec. 29 that started the re­cent win­ning streak. Cowan scored a sea­son-low 10 points, miss­ing seven of nine shots, in­clud­ing four of five on 3-point­ers. Fer­nando, Morsell and fresh­man guard Eric Ay­ala were all in dou­ble fig­ures in points.

“I think he al­ways trusted the guys,” Tur­geon said on a tele­con­fer­ence Sun­day. “He re­ally likes his team­mates. Maybe the game’s slowed down a lit­tle bit for him. I think we’ve got­ten a lot bet­ter in our half-court of­fense.

“There’s a lot more guys in­volved in what we’re do­ing and we’ve just got­ten bet­ter, and our spac­ing’s got­ten bet­ter, so think that’s helped An­thony. I think An­thony’s play­ing with more con­fi­dence.”

Cowan ac­knowl­edged Sun­day that he’s at a bet­ter com­fort level than he’s been at most of the sea­son.

“I think [it’s] just the con­fi­dence my coaches and team­mates are putting into me,” Cowan said. “I think that’s one of the big­gest rea­sons. I think I just play more free, I just let the game come to me. I just key in on try­ing to make the right plays.”

The first month of the sea­son seemed to be an ad­just­ment pe­riod for Cowan, mostly in shar­ing the point guard job with Ay­ala.

In Mary­land’s first nine games, Cowan made just 14 of 52 on 3-point shots (26.9 per­cent), in­clud­ing two of 10 in a 62-60 loss at Pur­due that ended with Cowan’s cor­ner 3-pointer near the buzzer be­ing blocked by 6-6 sopho­more No­jel East­ern.

Tur­geon said after the Dec. 6 game — the only loss in the Big Ten so far for the Terps — that it was not the shot he wanted his team to take.

The turnover-prone Cowan also con­tin­ued to be a lit­tle care­less with the ball. Mary­land’s 74-72 win over then-No. 24 Ne­braska on Jan. 2 marked the first time all sea­son Cowan didn’t have a turnover.

As much as Fer­nando has im­proved from his fresh­man year — Tur­geon has of­ten said no player in the coun­try has made the jump the 6-10 An­golan has — Cowan is still more of a barom­e­ter of Mary­land’s suc­cess.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that Fer­nando is “a load … one of the best play­ers in our league,” In­di­ana’s Miller be­lieves the Terps will go as far as Cowan takes them.

“I still think the key to their team goes through An­thony Cowan,” Miller said be­fore leav­ing Xfin­ity Cen­ter on Fri­day. “When he’s play­ing like that, they’re tough to deal with.”

BRUCE KLUCKHOHN/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mary­land guard An­thony Cowan Jr. has av­er­aged 19 points and close to five as­sists a game dur­ing the Terps’ five-game win­ning streak. “I think [it’s] just the con­fi­dence my coaches and team­mates are putting into me,” Cowan said.

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