COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon would probably like to expunge the memory of the Terps' last game in Iowa City, Ia. Almost two years ago, a veteran UMD squad trekked out to Iowa for a Sunday afternoon bout and left with a rather demoralizing 16-point defeat.
Both the Terps and Hawkeyes feature much different teams this time around, but Turgeon acknowledged he’d have to broach that February 2014 affair as a reminder to what can happen when you let down on the road.
“We’ll have to talk about what happened there two years ago,” said Turgeon, whose squad travels to Iowa Jan. 19 for a 7 p.m. bout. “At home [Iowa is] terrific with their press, and we really struggled with their press two years ago…. They go to press into man-to-man and they go from press into a 3-2 [zone], so we’ve got to be strong with the ball. … They’re deep, they’re skilled, they pass it and they’re great off the dribble -- a lot is the same [from Iowa two years ago]. So we’ve got to be ready…. Every road game is tough.”
True enough, but the Terps already have a pair of Big Ten road wins since conference play began just after Christmas. Maryland is coming off a six-point win at Illinois, and before that UMD downed Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., 77-70.
“This team has impressed me all year in how they’ve reacted to things. But we just have confidence and believe in ourselves [on the road],” Turgeon said. “I think what’s won our two road games in the league has been our defense, and our rebounding has been better. Our offense can be better; it can be a little more complete [on the road].”
Overall, the Terps sit third in the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing 65 points per game, while they’re sixth in field-goal percentage defense (40 percent). But during the last two games away from Xfinity Center, Maryland has held Illinois to 56 points on 37.5 percent from the field and Michigan to 70 points on 38 percent shooting.
Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter have done well locking down the perimeter, switching on ball screens and halting drives, and center Damonte Dodd has been particularly effective protecting the rim. Meanwhile, junior Melo Trimble routinely gets his hand in passing lanes, and Justin Jackson has used his length to disrupt shooters.
“It’s all effort,” Huerter said. “We always preach we’ve got to get three stops in a row – that’s how we break it down. And whenever we do, we make it a big deal and the coaches announce it. Three stops in a row.
“I think the [loss to] Nebraska kind of woke us up. Ever since then, we’ve been playing with more intensity and been better on the defensive end. We realized we can’t rest and have to respect every single opponent.”
Huerter, of course, is a freshman, along with two of the other aforementioned players: Jackson and Cowan. Their ability to show out defensively game in and game out, even when their shooting touch is off, has impressed both the Maryland coaches and the veteran players.
“I wasn’t expecting them to be frontline guys this early. But they’re very smart, confident and bring toughness,” Turgeon said. “Those guys have been consistently good, which is hard at a young age.”
Said junior guard Jaylen Brantley: “The young guys are playing with a lot of hunger and a chip on their shoulders… They came in here not knowing what to expect, but they came in here and [performed]. I feel like they’re going to keep getting better.”
Brantley could say the same for himself. Besides the youngsters, the junior-college transfer has continued to contribute valuable minutes off the bench in place of Trimble and Cowan.
Brantley played 21 minutes against the Illini, and finished with 12 points, six rebounds and two steals. He, Cowan and Trimble were perhaps the main reasons UMD pulled out the road victory in Champaign, Ill.
“I’m having more fun, mainly because I’m playing more (laughs),” Brantley said. “But for me it’s fun being able to help the guys like Kevin, Anthony and Justin as much as I can.
“But one of the reasons I’ve been doing well is Melo. He opens things up for all of us with his drives. … That’s as simple as it gets. He makes bigs plays at the end of the game, and he’s our leader. We thrive off of him.”
The Terps have ridden Trimble and Co. to a 16-2 record and, finally, a spot in the national rankings. Maryland eked into the top-25 earlier this week, coming in at No. 25.
Not that it means anything this far from tournament season.
“Coach Turgeon asked us how we felt about being ranked. Nobody raised their hand or said anything,” Brantley said. “It’s business as usual for us.”
Turgeon said his team may not be concerned with the ranking, but. . .
“Iowa is,” he said. “And they’ve changed to Gold Night since we’ve been ranked. We’ll have to talk about that.”
Yes, the Hawkeyes (11-8, 3-3 Big Ten) and their faithful will be charged for Jan. 19. Which is dangerous for Maryland considering Iowa, despite its record, has knocked off then-No. 18 Purdue and then-No. 25 Iowa State at home. Carver-Hawkeye Arena is a smaller, more intimate gym than many others in the Big Ten, but it’s typically loud and raucous.
"The crowd isn’t going to be on our side, obviously,” Huerter said. “It’s crazy when everyone in the gym is against you besides the guys on your bench. … But the key is playing with a lot of energy, because we know we’re not going to get it from the crowd.”
On the floor, the Hawkeyes are third in the Big Ten in scoring (82 points per game), but last in defense (allowing 78). They rank near the middle of the pack in most other major statistical categories, save defensive rebounding, in which they’re dead last.
Iowa is led by senior wing Peter Jok, who is tops in the league in scoring at 22 points a night. The 6-foot-6 Jok shoots 45 percent from the field, 40 percent from distance and 91 percent from the line. He also pulls down more than six boards and averages about two assists per game.
“The scouting report says you’ve got to start guarding him as soon as he walks in the gym. He can hit it from anywhere,” Turgeon said. “He’s long, he’s tall, he can shoot over people and he’s a great shooter. And he’s added to his game. He’s doing a lot of things off the dribble with his ball screens and in the post. … He’s a terrific player, and he was last year too.”
Brantley and Huerter were much more succinct is their assessments. Huerter, for his part, will be tasked with guarding Jok much of the game.
“[Jok] does it all,” Brantley said.
Teaming with Jok in the backcourt is point guard Jordan Bohannon, who puts up about nine points and around 4.5 assists a night. Bohannon is not the most efficient shooter, however.
Meanwhile, two-guard Isaiah Moss rotates in and out, averaging about seven points in around 18 minutes.
In the frontcourt, Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl rank second and third on the squad in scoring, respectively. Cook puts in 13 per game on 54 percent from the field, while Pemsl averages 9.3 on 64 percent. Both grab about five rebounds a night.
Iowa regularly subs in two or three more forwards during the course of a game as well, giving the Hawkeyes solid depth.
“What really impressed me was their two big guys, Cook and Pemsl,” Turgeon said. “That was the biggest shocker when watching film. I wasn’t expecting that. They’re going to be great players in the league for four years.”
The Iowa game will be the first of a relatively difficult stretch for the Terps. Maryland does have Rutgers at home Jan. 24, but then treks to Minnesota; Ohio State; and Penn State. In-between, UMD hosts one of the top teams in the Big Ten, Purdue.
Turgeon acknowledged these next few games will test his team’s mettle, in particular the freshmen.
“Every season, unless you have superior talent, you have your ups and downs, and we haven’t had our downs yet. Hopefully we don’t,” Turgeon said, “but we know what lies ahead.”