COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Junior center Michal Cekovsky started Dec. 7 in place of the injured Damonte Dodd (MCL sprain), but it might not have been much longer before the Slovakian native supplanted his teammate anyway. Since returning from a foot injury Nov. 29 against Pittsburgh, Cekovsky has steadily improved, to the point where he’s become by far the Maryland’s most reliable offensive threat in the frontcourt and at least an adequate defender.
On Dec. 7 against Howard, Cekovsky, who started for only the third time in three years, took yet another step forward. He tied a season-high with 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting, to go along with three blocks. He had just one rebound, an area he readily acknowledged needs to improve, but Cekovsky has proven to be more reliable than the inconsistent Dodd and Ivan Bender, who just returned from injury as well.
“Ceko was moving towards being a starter to be honest with you, the way he was playing,” Turgeon said. “I talk to Ceko more than anybody; I coach him more than anybody on the team. I get on him, and he probably hears my voice in his sleep… There’s a lot of potential there; he can really score the ball. He left some points out the board too. Anthony Cowan throwing him lobs and he isn’t reacting soon enough. He’ll learn from that. He could’ve had 20, 22 points tonight. He’s ready.”
Of course, Cekovsky did connect on a couple of those lob attempts, throwing down a pair of thunderous dunks overtop the smallish Howard defenders. The first came right out of the gate when Cekovsky scored the game’s first two points on a feed from Justin Jackson. Jackson hit Cekovsky again in the second half, while in-between the big man, coming off a back screen, threw down a beautiful lob from backup point guard Jaylen Brantley.
“My teammates did a great job finding me around the rim,” Cekovsky said. “It worked out well. It was nice. …The key was playing inside-out. We won because of that.”
After that first dunk courtesy of the Jackson pass, however, the Terps didn’t get Cekovsky nearly as many touches. Maryland once again settled for 3s instead of exploiting the mismatch down low.
But during halftime, with UMD up by just seven points against the mid-major Bison, Turgeon drilled the forgotten game plan into his team. Thus, the Terps’ guards began moving the ball in to Cekovsky -- and Bender for that matter -- during the latter 20 minutes, allowing the center to convert underneath or kick the ball out to a wide-open jump shooter.
“[Ceko] got an early touch, and we kind of stopped looking for him. But in the second half we got the ball into Ceko, and he made the plays,” guard Kevin Huerter said. “Ceko’s improved a lot. When he gets the ball in the block, he can do it all. He’s a really good passer too, because he’s so big. When we get the ball to him, good things happen.”
Cekovsky’s minutes are often limited, however, because he has a penchant for getting into foul trouble. Against Howard, Cekovsky picked up two fouls in the game’s first six minutes, once again forcing Turgeon to dip into his bench. But after that, Cekovsky didn’t record his third foul until deep into the second half, the 7-footer playing much more controlled, aware defense.
“I keep saying Ceko’s one of our better defenders and he’s not there yet, his timing isn’t there yet,” Turgeon said. “Hopefully in these next three games — playing Wednesday, Saturday, Monday — he can get a lot of clock, find some rhythm and stay out of foul trouble.”
It would help if he could muscle up on the boards too. Cekovsky looked rather sheepish when reporters broached his one-rebound stat line.
“I’m 7-feet tall,” he said. “I’ve got to protect the rim, box out better and rebound. … But I’m getting better in practice, I’m more confident.”