By: Cody Wilcox
For the fourth time this season, the Maryland men’s basketball team lost to a top-10 opponent. With the stands filled with famous Terps such as former Maryland head coach Gary Williams, alumnus Scott Van Pelt and former players like Melo Trimble and Steve Blake, the then-No. 17 Maryland lost 69-62 to the No. 9 Michigan Wolverines on Sunday.
While Michigan was led by Ignas Bradzeikis and Zavier Simpson, Maryland’s Bruno Fernando and Anthony Cowan struggled. Fernando finished with 12 points on 5-13 shooting, missing shots that he normally converts, and Cowan had 10 points on 4-15 shooting.
With Minnesota as the last home game before the Terps enter into tournament play, Maryland’s season may come to an early ending if Fernando and Cowan have off games again and other players can’t step up in their stead.
“We’re definitely not going to go away from it– per say like our bread and butter. We going to keep feeding them,” sophomore guard Darryl Morsell said. “The whole team, we trust in [Fernando]. The entire team, we trust in [Cowan].”
|21 Wins||14.5 ppg, 67 field goal percentage||16.8 ppg, 43 field goal percentage, 38 3-point percentage|
|Nine losses||13 ppg, 56 field goal percentage||13.2 ppg, 33 field goal percentage, 24 3-point percentage|
In 22 of the 30 games that Maryland has played this season, either Fernando or Cowan has led Maryland in scoring.
Against Michigan, Fernando’s offense was consistently being tested by Michigan’s Jon Teske, who leads the Big Ten with 67 blocks. Listed at 7-foot-1-inch, Teske forced Fernando, who is listed at 6-foot-10-inches, to shoot over his length the majority of the time, aside from a few open-court dunks.
“There was probably one, or two or three looks that I was out of balance on the play,” Fernando said. “I just couldn’t make the hook shots and the shots that I normally make. That was the whole difference.
“…[Teske is] a heck of a player. He is a great defensive presence for them in the paint. Like I said, I still think and believe that I got the shots that I wanted. They just weren’t falling.”
Cowan, who has experienced multiple scoring droughts throughout the years, only had 2 points in the first half with Simpson, who is widely regarded as the Big Ten’s best on-ball defender, sticking to his hip. Cowan combined for a layup and 3-pointer during consecutive Maryland possessions between the minute and two-minute mark. But it was too late for the Terps as the Big Ten’s second leading 3-point percentage shooter Isaiah Livers preserved Michigan’s lead in the following possession with a dagger 3-pointer.
“[Cowan] was trying as hard as he could out there and just couldn’t get anything going,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We had a couple good plays and got him some good looks, but it just wasn’t going for him. It was one of those nights.”
When the team’s two premier players struggling, other Terps are going to be expected to step up, especially Turgeon’s highly recruited freshman class.
Freshman forward Jalen Smith, despite battling foul trouble for part of the game, contributed 11 points in Maryland’s loss to Michigan on Sunday. Smith has shown glimpses of what he is capable of this season, which includes a career-high 21 points against Minnesota, that validated his No. 10 overall ESPN recruiting ranking.
In five of Maryland’s nine losses, Smith has been a top three scorer for the Terps. Earlier this season, Smith hit a game-winning floater against Nebraska to send Maryland to a 74-72 win over Nebraska, showing he can deliver when called upon.
Turgeon has implored Smith to be more aggressive at times this season as the team relies on him to be among the next tier of scoring threats behind Cowan and Fernando.
Freshman guard Aaron Wiggins saw 16 minutes in Sunday’s matchup, which is the second-lowest amount of playing time he’s seen this season, going 1-2 from the field and finishing with five points. He was averaging 24.4 minutes per game prior to Maryland’s second matchup with Michigan, and matched his career-best 15 points in 28 minutes against the Wolverines in their first meeting.
Wiggins hit his only 3-point attempt on Sunday, an area that he has thrived at for the Terps. The Greensboro, North Carolina, native is currently the second best 3-point shooter on the team, behind freshman guard Eric Ayala, with a shooting percentage of about 42 percent. With Cowan and Fernando receiving additional attention from opposing scouting reports and teams, Wiggins will have to be prepared to catch and shoot from beyond the arc.
Ayala, who has started every game but one for the Terps, has been a consistent facilitator for Maryland throughout the season. He is second in assists on the team, averaging 2.3 per contest and fifth in scoring with 8.5 points per contest.
In Maryland’s sixth loss of the season at Wisconsin, Ayala led the team in scoring with 18 points while the Terps struggled with foul trouble to their front-court players.
If the Terps face a similar situation in the Big Ten tournament or the NCAA tournament, Ayala may be called upon once again to heavily contribute to their scoring.
Without a doubt, Cowan and Fernando are the only Terps that are physically capable of completely taking over a game. Whether it’s Cowan off the bounce or outside the arc, or Fernando dominating around the rim, the two current faces of Maryland basketball can Maryland’s destiny into March and April.
If Fernando and Cowan are unable to do so, Maryland’s role players will need to be ready to step up to overcome those shortcomings.
“When [Fernando and Cowan] are missing shots, we have confidence that they will make the next one,” Morsell said. “But we just try to get shots and get out in transition and try to find other ways to score if we are not scoring well at half court.
“The other guys know that we have to step up.”