Feature photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.
Three and a half weeks ago, Justin Jackson and his 28 points led Maryland to its sixth-straight win, a road victory over Minnesota. The win tied the best start in program history and extended Maryland’s perfect road record.
It was Minnesota’s fifth-straight loss and seventh of the year, spiraling the Gophers to 3-6 in the Big Ten.
The roles have reversed. When Maryland welcomes Minnesota to the Xfinity Center Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., the Gophers will bring a five-game winning streak and Maryland holds a 3-3 record since the first meeting.
Another difference will be the absence of Michal Cekovsky. The 7-foot-1 junior center played six minutes in his second game back from injury on Jan. 28, but he won’t see the floor at all Wednesday after being declared out for the year with a fractured left ankle. Cekovsky fell after a drive Sunday against Wisconsin, again hurting the ankle that kept him from the court earlier in the season.
Without Cekovsky, Damonte Dodd, Ivan Bender, L.G. Gill and Justin Jackson will all likely be asked to assume larger roles moving forward. For Bender, Gill and Jackson, it could mean spending time in an unnatural position, moving from their typical four-spots to the five-spot. But with the revolving door of injuries Maryland has dealt with this season, it won’t be unusual for them, Turgeon said.
“We played the Illinois game without Damonte and Ceko,” Turgeon said. “We had to do it all year. We’ve had guys sick, a little bit injured. We’ve had different things that never make the media that you just hide and you play through it. Our guys know they need to step up.”
Gill was asked to learn the position early in the year. After transferring from Duquesne where he featured mostly as a stretch perimeter player, he didn’t know he would have to shift to the interior at Maryland. Out of necessity, he spent much of the non-conference schedule in the five-spot. Now he will be asked to do the same, and he feels more ready after gaining that experience.
“Since I’ve done it in the past, it’s not going to be that big of an adjustment,” Gill explained. “I think if I hadn’t played the five in the past, it would be a different situation. Right now, I kind of know what to expect.”
Melo Trimble said even without Cekovsky, the team can play the same it has all season. Players just need to be prepared.
“Next man mentality,” Trimble said. “Our bigs are just going to have to step up.”
Without Cekovsky, the Terps lose another big body to work for rebounds in the paint. Against Wisconsin, Maryland lost on the glass 44-27, its worst rebounding margin of the season. The Badgers scored 19 second-chance points off of 18 offensive rebounds.
Turgeon said in the game’s final four minutes, he put Trimble, Dodd, Jackson and Kevin Huerter on the bench because they weren’t getting it done on the boards.
“I don’t like to call them out in public, but we weren’t rebounding, and the guys that were sitting on the end of the bench the last four minutes weren’t rebounding,” he said.
That will have to change Wednesday. Turgeon compared Minnesota to Wisconsin, calling the Gophers a “big, strong team” like their neighboring rivals. The Gophers boast two of the conference’s top 10 rebounders, sophomore forward Jordan Murphy and junior center Reggie Lynch, in their frontcourt.
In the first meeting, Minnesota outrebounded Maryland 41-31 and snatched 14 offensive rebounds, leading to 19 second-chance points.
To rebound well enough against Minnesota and going forward without Cekovsky, Turgeon said Dodd must limit his fouls. Dodd has fouled at least four times in 11 of his 20 appearances this season, fouling out three times.
“For us to be great down the stretch, Damonte can’t play 15 minutes or 13 minutes and be in foul trouble the whole game,” Turgeon explained. “He’s got to give us 25 at least for us to be great.”
But the onus isn’t only on the shoulders of the almost 7-footer. Trimble said Turgeon told the team in a meeting Tuesday that everyone must contribute on the glass.
“We can still try to win the league, and if not, we’re going to try to get ready for the postseason,” Trimble said of the meeting. “He told us, in order for us to win games, we have to rebound, and [against Wisconsin] we didn’t do a good job of that.”