COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Following Maryland’s loss to Purdue, head coach Mark Turgeon allowed that his team played decently, but just couldn’t convert down the stretch. The headman took on a much different tone, however, after his team fell to a struggling Penn State squad Feb. 7, giving the Terps their first two-game skid of the season. Maryland came out flat, made too many mental errors and played lackadaisical defense at times in the 70-64 defeat, which dropped UMD to 20-4 and 8-3 in the Big Ten.
“We have to guard better. That’s been our MO since [the PSU loss]. … We were dumb, not very good defensively. Our rotations were slow, the communication was bad. Usually the offense effects the defense, and I thought it did,” Turgeon said. “Towards the end of the game we started to make more mistakes – things that shouldn’t happen if we’re guarding the right way. It was one of those nights. … We’re getting pretty good looks [on offense], but we have to get better defensively and with rebounding.”
The Terps allowed a Nittany Lions squad not known for its shooting prowess to connect at a 42 percent rate. Sure, PSU was a woeful 2-of-18 from 3, but they repeatedly found openings inside for easy layups and put-backs. The Nittany Lions also used their height advantage in the backcourt by posting up Maryland’s guards and scoring overtop them. The latter, in particular, drew Turgeon’s ire since his big men failed to offer help defense.
And although Maryland actually won the rebounding battle, there were a few occasions when the Terps failed to box out, giving Penn State second-chance opportunities.
“Defense and rebounding are two things we need to get back to doing. It’s been a major emphasis for us,” freshman Justin Jackson said. “And defensive rotations are always important, whether it’s on a post-up, a swing or just flying around. … It’s something we’re focusing on.”
For the most part, per Turgeon, the team has worked hard to correct the defensive gaffes. The coach is confident the Terps will bounce back when they take the floor Feb. 11 at Xfinity Center.
“Our guys know they have to play better, but it’s a long season. You don’t get to 20-2 and think you’re a bad team. You don’t lose two in a row and all of a sudden you forget everything. We have a good group,” Turgeon said. “Every loss is different, every situation is different. We just had a bad night… We just didn’t play well... It’s happened, we move on, we’ve had great practices, and hopefully we react the right way.”
Said Jackson: “We have to get back to the things that got us to this point. Practicing hard, watching a lot of film, taking it one play at a time and giving 100 percent each time we step on the court – we have to get back to those things.”
The numbers suggest Jackson isn’t one of those slumping players who needs to revert to form. After all, the forward scored 14 points and had nine rebounds in the loss. But Jackson did misfire on 7 of his 11 shots, while he turned the ball over four times. Moreover, the game prior, in the loss to Purdue, Jackson put up just eight points and five rebounds before fouling out.
This after Jackson scored a combined 50 points and recorded 22 rebounds against Minnesota and Ohio State.
“Teams are much more aware of him when you put numbers up like that, that’s part of it. Maybe not getting as many opportunities because [of the defense], maybe not being as aggressive because [of the defense]. It ebbs and flows throughout the season,” Turgeon said. “But we want him to be aggressive, not just shooting, but getting his teammates involved too.”
Jackson allowed opponents have started to key on him after his back-to-back offensive outbursts in January. He said it’s up to him to adjust and make life difficult on the defense, which he’s confident he’ll be able to do.
“I think he just has to be smarter and take what the defense gives him,” senior center Damonte Dodd said. “If they take away his shot, drive it. If they [offer] help, find the open players. He just has to play smarter.”
That could be said for much of the Terps’ lineup. Freshman guard Anthony Cowan continues to struggle on both ends, and he missed all five of his field goals against Penn State. Freshman Kevin Huerter was only 3-of-8 from downtown. Junior point guard Melo Trimble didn’t have one of his better defensive outings, while he shot 4-of-13 from the field.
And those are just the starters. Jaylen Brantley, LG Gill and Jared Nickens didn’t exactly contribute a whole lot, either.
That said, big man Ivan Bender scored six points and had two rebounds in eight minutes, while 7-footer Michal Cekovsky had five points; three boards; and a block in eight minutes.
“[Ceko] didn’t play as much as we’d like, but he’s practicing well and hasn’t had any setbacks. We need him. I think defensively he had some big-time blocks [in the PSU game]. He’s protecting the rim, and that’s important for us moving forward,” Turgeon said.
Now, Maryland is tasked with facing a foe they just saw Jan. 31 in Columbus, Ohio. The Terps raced out a big lead against Ohio State and held on late for a 77-71 road victory, the team’s sixth away from Xfinity Center. Since then, Ohio State has beaten Michigan on the road and Rutgers at home, running its record to 15-10 (5-7 Big Ten).
“They’re a talented team, really good players, run really good stuff – present lots of challenges,” Turgeon said.
During the initial showdown, Trimble did his part to stave off the Buckeyes, scoring the team’s final seven points, including a couple clutch jumpers to sink charging OSU. The point guard did miss his first five 3s, however, and turned it over five times.
Meanwhile, Justin Jackson shined with 22 points and 12 rebounds; Anthony Cowan had 11 points and five assists; and Kevin Huerter had nine points, four assists and four blocks. Combined, Maryland shot 49 percent from the field, 76.5 percent from distance and out-rebounded OSU 33-29.
The Buckeyes, for their part, hit at a 48 percent clip, were 41 percent from 3, and 71 percent from the line.
Top scorer Jae’Sean Tate, who dropped in 20, led OSU in scoring. The forward is averaging over 14 points on 55 percent from the field, to go along with a half-dozen boards per game.
Fellow forward Marc Loving scored 18 points against Maryland, knocking down 4-of-5 triples in the process. Loving averages close to a dozen a night, converting at a 42 percent clip from the field and 38 percent from distance. He pulls down around five boards per too.
“We didn’t guard great in that game and they made a lot of shots in that game. Loving and Tate really hurt us,” Turgeon said. “Hopefully we guard them better.”
At center, Trevor Thompson came off the bench to score nine points and record a team-high nine rebounds Jan. 31. Although Thompson doesn’t always start, he usually sees most of the minutes, averaging 10.8 points and 9.4 rebounds. Thompson is an avid rim protector as well, recording more than two a night.
Another big man, Micah Potter, got the starting nod against UMD, but he didn’t make much -- if any -- noise. Potter typically plays around 13-14 minutes per, scores a bucket or two, and grabs about three rebounds.
In the backcourt, two-guard Kam Williams, a Baltimore native, scored 10 against his hometown team. Williams averages 10.6 points a night on 41 percent shooting and 39 percent from 3. He is OSU’s most effective deep threat.
Finally, there’s the point guard, which ordinarily would be sophomore JaQuan Lyle, who is third on the team in scoring (11.4 points per game); the most efficient backcourt shooter (45 percent); and the leading assist man (5.0 per).
But Lyle has missed the last two games with an ankle injury and is out against Maryland. Lyle scored nine point and handed out six assists during the first meeting, although he did turn the ball over four times.
With Lyle out, the Buckeyes have relied on CJ Jackson to run the show. Sanders played 28 minutes during each of the last two games, scoring 8 and 7 points in the process, while handing out a total of three assists. Sanders, though, struggled somewhat against Rutgers, coughing the ball up five times manning the point.
For the season, Jackson is shooting only 32 percent from the floor, 22 percent from range and has just over a 2-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio.
“Ohio State is a great team. They came out last game and challenged us. They’re not going to go easy, so we have to be ready,” Jackson said. “Definitely, there is a sense of urgency.”