COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Talk about an odd couple. Varun Ram, the Terrapins’ 5-9 senior guard rooms with 7-1 sophomore Michal Cekovsky.
On Feb. 9, the roomies made themselves at home in Xfinity Center, helping Maryland break a school record with a 27th consecutive home win as the No. 2 Terrapins blasted Bowie State 93-62. The duo famously connected late in the game, Ram penetrating and throwing a no-look lob to Cekovsky for a big dunk.
It was only fair, as Ceko revealed after the game, he does most of the cooking at their apartment. Ram, though, does most of the motivating.
“He’s always there, he’s a really good guy,” said the big Solovakian center. “He makes me feel good even when I’m not playing. He tells me to keep my head up.”
Cekovsky, who hadn’t played more than 10 minutes in any of the last nine games, got a season-high 18 Feb. 9, and came up big with a career best 14 points as Maryland (22-3) predictably dominated around the basket. The Terrapins started slowly but warmed up to the task of putting away Division II Bowie State (13-10) about the time Cekovsky entered the proceedings early.
“I thought our bigs scored around the basket, which they should have,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. “Ceko, it was good to see. He made some free throws in the first half, scored around the rim, got a nice lob, got a nice finish. It was good for his confidence. It’s going to help him.”
This game, Turgeon insisted, also helped his team, which shot up to its highest ranking since the season began on Monday. The Terrapins are one of three teams along with Oklahoma and Kansas to remain in the Top 10 all season long.
“This keeps us in our rhythm instead of playing Saturday to Saturday,” said Turgeon. “We got to prepare for a team, play the game with the crowd. It kind of keeps us in rhythm. The good thing is we didn’t play the guys a lot of minutes, which is great. We’ll take tomorrow off and then have two days to prepare for the next one.”
If the Terrapins hadn’t gotten this game on the schedule, they would have had this entire week off following the Purdue victory and headed into Feb. 13's big showdown with Wisconsin at Xfinity Center. After that contest, Maryland doesn’t play again until Feb. 18 at Minnesota.
So Feb. 9 Turgeon got everyone in the game, and got positive results, particularly from Cekovsky and another player who could make a difference down the stretch – junior guard Jaylen Brantley. Brantley had 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting in his 21 minutes, his best showing since 14 points against Princeton on Dec. 19. He hadn’t played that many minutes at Maryland ever, and he had scored just nine points total in his last eight games.
“I just came out just as my normal self like I would any other game,” he said. “Just waiting to see if my name was going to get called, and just play confident like Coach is always telling me to do. I felt great. It was a confidence-booster for me and it gives Coach Turgeon confidence in me to see that I’m ready to play with the guys.”
Brantley credited his teammates with keeping him ready during the recent stretch when he hadn’t seen much playing time. He had a total of 13 minutes played in the last nine games. “It has actually been a little tough but the guys have been talking to me. I’ve been meeting with Coach Turgeon, and he’s telling me to just keep playing harder and to stay with it. It’s a long season so you never know what’s going to happen.”
Well, what could happen is that Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, the team leaders with both over 32 minutes per game, could have a little more help, particularly offensively where Brantley again showed he can give the team a lift.
“I told Jaylen I have 100 percent belief in him,” said Sulaimon, who led all scorers with 16 points. “Especially tonight. I told him just to go in the game and have fun and play your game. Don’t worry about the mistakes. You’re a part of this team and we need you just as much as anyone else. It’s good to see him go out there and play his butt off.”
The Terrapins didn’t always look like they were playing that way. Some Bulldog defensive traps and tricky switches, something Turgeon admitted he didn’t expect, slowed Maryland down in the first half. Fortunately Ceko and Diamond Stone, who would also finish with 14 points, began to take charge in the paint.
“Once we adjusted to their trap, we were able to exploit it to get easy buckets in the paint,” said Suliamon, who hit 7-of-10 shots, and had two assists and three steals in just 20 minutes. Trimble finished with five points, four rebounds and three assists in his 17 minutes.
The big news, though, was the performance by Ceko, who hit 4-of-5 shots from the field, 6-of-10 at the line, grabbed four rebounds, had two blocked shots and easily eclipsed his career high of 10 points last year against VMI. He had eight earlier this season against Mount St. Mary’s.
“It’s not easy but I believe in the process, “ Ceko said of the same doubts over lack of playing time that Brantley talked about. “I know every coach and all the players believe in me. I practice hard and I’m waiting for my chance. I know I have time.
“I said at the beginning of the season that we have probably the best bigs in the country. It’s great for me because I’m getting better every practice. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard when we have to share minutes, especially when we play teams that play smaller, but I understand.”
Maryland led 47-29 at the end of a choppy first half. Bowie State committed 18 fouls, had three starters with three fouls, and saw the Terrapins parade to the free throw line to make 19 of 24 attempts in the first half.
Still with 3:49 left before the break, Bowie State trailed just 38-26 when Enuoma Ebinum hit one of two free throws. Maryland ran off the next nine points – five of them at the line – to lead 47-26 at 40.4 seconds when Cekovsky made an athletic play to score on a wayward lob. Cekovsky had his career high by the half with 11 points.
Big men did a lot of the damage to Bowie State. Maryland had jumped out to an early 12-3 lead, Stone scoring six of their first eight points and then Ceko coming in to hit four quick free throws in the foul-fest. Stone was 4-of-7 from the field, and 6-of-6 at the free throw line.
The Bulldogs, who host Virginia Union Wednesday, missed their first five shots and had just three field goals in the first eight minutes. Maryland led 21-7 at 12:03 when Cekovsky got a dunk on a feed from Damonte Dodd as the Terrapins broke a press.
The Terrapins built on that 18-point halftime lead, scoring the first three baskets of the second half to force Bowie State coach Darrell Brooks to call timeout. Stone started with a short turnaround jumper in the paint, then Jake Layman scored on a drive. When Sulaimon penetrated for a bucket at 18:03, Maryland led 53-29.
The Terrapins’ lead reached 37 points in the second half, Dodd with a layup at 5:43 to make it 88-51. Maryland, with Turgeon clearing the bench, didn’t have a field goal after Dodd’s basket. Ram, on his way to a career best eight points, hit four free throws over that span and Cekovsky had one. All of Ram’s points came at the free throw line as Maryland posted season highs of 33 makes on 44 attempts.
Robert Carter, Jr., had nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes, and Layman had six points and four boards in 19 minutes. Jared Nickens had four points in 19 minutes, too. Dodd had five points and four rebounds in 16 minutes, and Ivan Bender got a bucket on a beautiful feed from Stone in Bender’s nine minutes.
Miles Jackson led Bowie State with 13 points, nine in the first half. Dayshawn Wells, a guard generously listed at 6-1, had 12 points, including several remarkable shots over Maryland big men. The Terrapins held Bowie State leading scorer Justin Beck (14.8 ppg) without a point, the 6-2 senior guard going 0-of-4 from the field in 12 foul-plagued minutes.
Bowie State shot 37.1 percent for the game (23-of-62), but the Bulldogs were held to just 32.4 percent (11-of-34) in the first half, when this contest was decided.
Maryland shot 59.6 percent (28-of-47), the Terrapins best night from the field since shooting 62.7 against Ohio State on Jan. 16, a span of seven games. Besides all the free throws, Maryland enjoyed a 48-28 advantage in points in the paint.
The Terrapins broke their own record for longest home win streak of 26, set Feb. 10, 1979 to Jan. 10, 1981, and snapped by a Ralph Sampson Virginia team on Jan. 14, 1981. Ironically, Maryland’s last loss before the current streak was in last year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge to Virginia, as well.
“It was a good night for us,” said Turgeon. “We shot the ball well. We got to the foul line. We made free throws. I thought that we defended pretty well for the most part. We took care of the ball until about the last three minutes of the game. The best thing was that we shared minutes. Everybody got to play.