When the Maryland Terrapins were struck with not one, but two season-altering injuries in late December, head coach Mark Turgeon said the team had to reinvent itself into one that used its bigs in a larger role.
It quickly became apparent how important those bigs were against Michigan State, as Maryland’s offense sputtered with both freshman Bruno Fernando and senior Michal Cekovsky in foul trouble. Without them on the court, the Terps were blown out for the first time all year.
Even in the first half of Sunday night’s game against Iowa, it looked as if the team was still figuring out how to put more emphasis on scoring closer to the basket. The Terps were down by 10 early, and the offense seemed like it still hadn’t recovered from it loss to the Spartans.
But then something clicked, and 14,732 fans at the Xfinity Center saw what Maryland’s tweaked offense could look like.
Fernando and Cekovsky combined for 34 points and nine rebounds, lifting the Terps (14-4, 3-2) over the Hawkeyes for their eighth win in nine games, 91-73.
“It was real important for us,” said Fernando, who led the Terps with 21 points. “We’ve been working real hard. It was a tough loss, but we were able to bounce back tonight. It feels, good, you know, to get back on the winning track, so we’re just going to try to keep going.”
Prior to sophomore forward Justin Jackson and redshirt junior Ivan Bender’s injuries, Fernando and Cekovsky, who finished the game with 13 points, hadn’t spent much time on the court together. Cekovsky has often been a staple in Maryland’s starting lineup, while Fernando came off the bench, sometimes to relieve the 7-foot-1 center from Slovakia.
But with Jackson out, Cekovsky has had to learn to play the four position, making room for Fernando to be a consistent addition to the starting lineup.
“That’s one thing that we haven’t really worked on a lot,” Fernando said when asked about his on-court relationship with Cekovsky. “But we’re doing a good job working with each other, knowing where each other is on the court. And it’s always good to be on the court with him. So, we’re just going to try to keep building that relationship.”
Fernando led the Terps to shoot 56.7 percent on 8-of-11 shooting. Fernando did most of his damage close to the basket, including six dunks — one of which put Maryland up by 13 with 2:33 left to play.
“He’s a versatile guy,” said Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said of Fernando. “He’s balanced, he’s physical, he’s strong… When you have a young guy that competes like he does, you have something special.”
Maryland had five other players finish in double figures, including sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan. Cowan had just four points in the first half, but the 6-foot player bounced back in the second to finish with 15 points and seven assists while not committing a turnover.
“I thought Anthony was terrific,” Turgeon said. “We played through him the last 12 minutes. He kind of opened the floor for us. He’s pretty special.”
“I told myself I’ve got to pick it up,” Cowan said on his first half performance. “I don’t know where I was at halftime, scoring, I just haven’t been aggressive. I feel like I was letting my team down a little bit. So, I had to make sure I picked up a little bit, and I think I did that a little bit in the second half.”
Freshman guard Darryl Morsell finished the game with 14 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Kevin Huerter had 12 points and redshirt junior Diol Wiley came off the bench and scored 10.
Junior guard Isaiah Moss led Iowa (9-9, 0-5) with a career-high 25 points.
Maryland found itself down 17-7 in the first five minutes of the game, but three back-to-back 3-pointers — two of which came from Wiley — helped cut the Terps’ lead down to five. Wiley’s second three sparked a 12-0 run that put the team up 29-24.
Maryland closed the half outscoring the Hawkeye 5-2 in the final minute to take a 48-44 lead.
Thanks to eight straight points from Moss, Maryland was down again in the second half, this time 54-50. But the combination of Huerter, Cowan and Fernando proved to be too much for Iowa, and with 9:44 left to play, a layup from Cowan gave the Terps the lead again 65-64, and this time, it was for good.
“I just said to my staff, ‘Our two best players got to start playing better,’ and I thought they both had great second halve,” Turgeon said of Cowan and Huerter. “We kind of fed off them.”
Maryland sealed its 10th win at the Xfinity Center. The team is now 10-1 at home, with its only loss coming against Purdue.
Maryland now travels to Columbus, Ohio to play Ohio State on Jan. 11. The Buckeyes are fresh off their upset win over Michigan State Sunday night, beating the Spartans 80-64. Tipoff against the Buckeyes will be on ESPN at 7 p.m.