Cowan, Terps top Butler in exciting nonconference bout

Maryland basketball

By Max Marcilla

The Xfinity Center was the spot of Maryland’s annual blackout on Wednesday night. Fans were draped in all black, many were given batman-style black capes and the Terps donned all black uniforms.

The blackout may as well have been called “light’s out,” because that’s how the Maryland Terrapins shot the ball in a 79-65 victory over the Butler Bulldogs.

In Maryland’s first nonconference test of the young 2017-18 season, the Terps were able to overcome 20 turnovers and struggles at the free throw line to secure one of their most impressive nonconference wins in the past few seasons.

Maryland was ignited by performances by its freshmen, Darryl Morsell and Bruno Fernando, who provided a spark that was felt from the early moments of the first half.

“The energy is what he brings,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “There were some mistakes early defensively that he’ll learn from and get better as time goes on. But his energy and getting the crowd involved is great.”

It didn’t take long for Fernando — a player head coach Mark Turgeon predicted would become a fan favorite — to become just that.

With Butler on top 15-11 after a hot shooting start, Fernando scored two buckets in a row, including a powerful slam, to even the score.

The 6-foot-10 freshman’s signature moment came just a few minutes later, when a spinning layup jump-started a 12-2 Maryland run.

Momentum was passed along to Maryland’s shooters, which caught fire in the first half. Kevin Huerter, Dion Wiley and Anthony Cowan all hit a pair of three-point shots in the first half.

However, Butler was able to stay in the game thanks to 11 first half Maryland turnovers.

Maryland’s stellar shooting percentage (17-of-24 in the first half) cooled off in the second half, but timely hoops and stingy Terrapin defense kept Maryland in the lead.

“We have to show we’re a great defensive team,” Cowan said. “That we can key in and lock in and, when we do that, we get stops.”

Butler shot just 26.5 percent from the field in the second half and 34.3 percent for the game.

“This team feels right defensively and I think we are going to get better,” Turgeon said. “Our bench will get deeper and it will rub off. We play so hard.”

Although the Terps led the entirety of the second half, they were still tested. With just over six minutes remaining in regulation, a pair of Aaron Thompson free throws trimmed Maryland’s lead to just five.

Moments later, Cowan hit a deep three-pointer as the shot clock ticked down, which was followed by a steal and dunk by Morsell.

“We were in good position, we had done a good job that possession, and then [Cowan] heaves one up from about 36 feet and it goes in,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said. “He’s got the courage to do it.”

The Terps held Butler without a field goal for over four minutes down the stretch to secure their third consecutive double-digit point victory.

For Maryland, the “big three” of Cowan, Huerter and Justin Jackson did not disappoint, but was also assisted by strong performances from its role players. Cowan had one of his best games as a Terp, scoring a career-high 25 points to go along with 10 rebounds (also a career-high) and five assists. Meanwhile, Huerter and Jackson added a combined 13 points and 18 rebounds.

The Terps will be back in action on Saturday for another 8:30 p.m. tip against the Bucknell Bison, who kept their midweek meeting with North Carolina close before the Tar Heels pulled away late.