Who's the lead dog of this Maryland men's basketball team?
The answer to that question was supposed to be forward Justin Jackson, who amassed NBA Draft hype during the offseason and appeared the heir apparent to former guard Melo Trimble's leadership role.
But Jackson disappeared for long stretches of Wednesday night's 79-65 win against Butler, scoring just four points, committing four turnovers and failing to register an assist. Those are bleak numbers for a supposed budding star competing in Maryland's first test of the year.
"Zero assists and four turnovers is not Justin," coach Mark Turgeon said. "That's really the thing that sticks out to me."
Guard Anthony Cowan, meanwhile, exploded for 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. After watching Cowan lead the offense and pester the Bulldogs backcourt at the other end of the floor, it's hard to argue he hasn't already surpassed Jackson as the Terps' leader.
Most of the biggest moments of the contest involved Cowan. None involved Jackson.
With just under 16 minutes remaining, Jackson sat on the bench with just two points on two field goal attempts. He looked on as guard Anthony Cowan picked up a loose ball and delivered a perfect alley-oop to guard Darryl Morsell. Jackson then watched Cowan convert a layup while drawing a foul on the next Maryland possession.
Cowan drilled a step-back 3-pointer early on and swished an off-balance long-range heave with the shot clock winding down midway through the first half. He put a bow on his stellar display by hitting a deep three from the Gary Williams signature on the left wing with about six minutes remaining, giving the Xfinity Center crowd another jolt of energy.
Jackson is 0-for-7 from 3-point range this season. His only long-range attempt Wednesday missed the rim entirely.
So even though he grabbed 11 rebounds and played solid defense on Butler's leading scorer Kelan Martin, Jackson didn't do enough to garner praise.
"We can't be great as we move forward if Justin is only taking four shots a game," Turgeon said. "We need him to be a better part of it."
Fortunately for the Terps, Cowan took full advantage of his team-high 37 minutes on the court, reaching at least 15 points for the third time in a row and guiding the team to a crucial nonconference victory.
There's not much Cowan did wrong Wednesday night, as he established career bests in points and rebounds. Just as impressive, though, was his ability to limit careless mistakes. While Maryland committed 20 turnovers, Cowan accounted for just one giveaway.
Maryland dominated Butler by most statistical measures Wednesday night, outshooting the Bulldogs by 23 percentage points and outrebounding them, 40-27. But Terps also appeared the more energetic team, buoyed by a noisy Xfinity Center crowd. Morsell and Fernando came off the bench to supply much of that enthusiasm, combining for 21 points, three blocks and a bevvy of loud dunks.
During a four-minute stretch in the first half, Huerter hit a pair of 3-pointers to help turn an 18-17 deficit into a 30-20 lead. But he hit just one more shot the rest of the night, committed five turnovers and fouled out.
Jackson was far too passive for such a big stage, and his 3-point shot continues to be an early-season concern. But he did hold Martin to 5-for-15 shooting and had two steals, which he can perhaps cling to as positives from a subpar display.