Terps Freshmen Locking Down Defensively

Maryland freshmen Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson are locking down defensively.

After a superb comeback, in which the Terps overcame a nine-point deficit in the last 2:21 against Georgetown for a 76-75 victory Nov. 15 in D.C.’s Verizon Center, Maryland returns home Nov. 17 to face another local foe.

Albeit, one with much less hype than the Hoyas.

The St. Mary’s College Seahawks feature a roster filled with players who shined at nearby DMV-area high schools – in fact, the Seahawks only have one player who is not from Maryland, D.C. or Northern Virginia -- which should be interesting for local prep hoops fans.

But beyond that, this 7 p.m. affair figures to be another early-season tune-up for the Terps, who are hoping some of their key veterans get on track offensively (see: Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley, Damonte Dodd), while their freshmen stars continue to develop defensively.

Indeed, the touted first years didn’t enter UMD as noted lockdown defenders, but Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson have proven to be just that through the first two games.

Huerter, the defensive hero against Georgetown with a last-second block of Hoyas’ point guard Jagan Mosely to preserve Maryland’s lead, has been stellar thus far. Against American, he held touted wing Delante Jones to 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Then, Huerter had the unenviable task of guarding GU graduate transfer Rodney Pryor, who put up 32 points in the Hoyas’ win against South Carolina Upstate. But Huerter shadowed Pryor all night, holding him to 14 points on a dozen attempts.

The upstate New York guard also had a handful of rebounds, a pair of blocks and a steal Nov. 15. For the season, Huerter is third on the Terps with 11 boards and ranks second with three blocks. Not to mention all that Huerter’s done that doesn’t show up in the box score, like hawk 3-point shooters and disrupt their rhythm.

Head coach Mark Turgeon even went so far as to dub Huerter his “best perimeter defender,” along with Cowan.

“I’ve definitely become a lot better defensively. That’s a huge part of everything we do every day,” Huerter said. “Coach Turgeon will hopefully tell you I’ve done better defensively. It’s definitely something I’ve worked on.”

Huerter’s offensive prowess has been on display as well, the freshman sharpshooter knocking down 4 of 5 triples this year, but it’s his defense that’s earned him a pair of starts. Huerter’s length and athleticism has allowed him to defend everywhere from the 3-point arc to the paint, the latter an area the former Shenendehowa (Clifton Park, N.Y.) star figured he’d never traverse. But after sprouting up from 6-feet-3 to 6-7 the last two years, and then bulking up this summer under the watch of strength coach Kyle Tarp, Huerter’s proven capable of hanging with the big boys.

“You know, I recruited him as a shot blocker,” quipped Turgeon. “It’s amazing what he’s done in such a short time.”

Huerter said he’d canned a few game-winning shots during his high school career. But he’d never had a victory-preserving defensive play like the one he recorded against Mosely and the Hoyas.

“Not like that, not nearly at that level, for sure,” Huerter said. “It’s definitely different. In high school I wasn’t really known for my defensive abilities. So to make a game-changing play like that, it’s definitely awesome.”

Cowan, for his part, has made a few game-changing plays himself. The 6-0 point had nine rebounds and a steal against American, a key reason why the Terps held on for the win. Then, against Georgetown, Cowan, who had 11 points and five assists, racked up three more steals, while doing his best to hold the Hoyas’ backcourt to just one 3-pointer.

“He was terrific defensively. We always put him on the best player,”  Turgeon said. “I thought he got us going in the second half when we went up four, he made plays for guys. And obviously we've got a ton of confidence in him.”

Cowan, like Huerter, has started both games in 2016. His ability to play on and off the ball, coupled with his court smarts and vision, earned him the nod over Maryland’s more established players. But, again, it was his defense that caught Turgeon’s eye.

“I think Coach wants our whole team’s identity to be defense,” said Cowan, who has 14 rebounds and four steals through two games. “That’s one thing I make sure to come in with every day is to have the most intensity on the defensive end.”

As for Jackson, well, he probably came to College Park, Md., as the most accomplished defensive presence. His wingspan, quickness and athleticism foretold someone who could hawk the ball at all three levels.

And he’s done just that so far, hitting the glass in earnest; sliding into passing lanes; and being active with his hands. The 6-7 forward has a team-high 16 rebounds and three steals, while he’s altered a couple shots down low as well.

After an eye-opening nine-board, two-steal outing against AU, he came back with another swipe and seven more rebounds – plus 17 points, including three 3-pointers – versus Georgetown. Jackson played a major role in holding the Hoyas’ talented Isaac Copeland, who heaped praise on the Terps’ collective defensive effort after the game, to 13 points on 3-of-14 shooting (0-of-3 from beyond the arc).

“This showed me I can persevere through tough times and tough environments,” Jackson said. “Rebounding and boxing out are things coach always tells us to work on.

“Defense is something I take a lot of pride in.”

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