With forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender sidelined for the rest of the season with injuries, the Maryland men's basketball team entered Tuesday's Big Ten matchup against Penn State needing its healthy cogs to contribute more than they did in their previous outing against UMBC.
The Terps struggled to pull away from the Retrievers, trailing at the half after posting a season-low 18 points and giving the ball away 10 times before the break.
While it took time for Maryland to receive contributions from all of its key players on Tuesday, the team jelled down the stretch to earn a 75-69 win. The come-from-behind victory should give the Terps confidence heading into their upcoming showdown at No. 1 Michigan State.
Guard Anthony Cowan was outstanding throughout the game, using his quickness with the ball to deliver 18 points, four rebounds and four assists from the backcourt. Forward Bruno Fernando returned to form with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
But guards Kevin Huerter and Darryl Morsell were slower to adapt to Maryland's most challenging opponent since the first weekend of December, when it opened conference play against Purdue and Illinois.
Huerter, who averaged 14.1 points per game entering Tuesday, picked two fouls in four minutes, went scoreless in the first half and didn't register an assist or rebound before halftime. His first field goal didn't come until the 7:48 mark of the second half.
Still, he remained aggressive late in the game, drawing fouls and playing tough defense as he finished with a respectable 13 points, four rebounds and three assists. He shot 9-for-9 from the free throw line, all in the final 12 minutes.
Morsell, meanwhile, missed his first eight shots, including an airballed 3-pointer. But he nailed a game-tying triple with less than five minutes left to spark the Terps' late rally.
Four Maryland players reached double-digit scoring and six grabbed at least four rebounds. The Terps racked up 13 assists to just five turnovers. While Penn State isn't near the level of the top-ranked Spartans, beating the Nittany Lions through balanced contributions shows the Terps are capable of putting up a fight in East Lansing on Thursday without Jackson or Bender.
Cowan kept the Terps afloat while Huerter was ineffective in the first half. He commanded the offense with sharp bursts into the lane, smart passes and a couple of sensational scoop layups through contact. Cowan is extremely difficult to contain when he consistently takes the ball into the teeth of a defense, an approach he used effectively Tuesday night.
Fernando got himself going with a couple of putbacks in the first half and finished with four offensive rebounds. He showed a nice midrange game, hitting a pull-up jumper from the elbow to stretch the floor. And unlike in previous games when foul trouble hindered his energetic runs by forcing him off the floor, he committed just one infraction against the Nittany Lions, allowing him to play a season-high 32 minutes.
With the game tied at 61, Cekovsky grabbed a rebound in traffic and dunked on a Nittany Lions defender, earning a foul in the process. The play highlighted a solid overall performance in which he scored 10 points and hauled in six boards. This was the first time he'd started alongside Fernando, and the early results were promising.
Despite the rough start, this was a decent display from the sophomore, who has now scored at least 10 points in every game since Nov. 27 against Syracuse. Still, he'll need to be more consistent against Michigan State to prevent the Spartans from running away with the game in the first half.
His clutch 3-pointer was huge for the Terps, but 2-for-10 shooting is not an acceptable return for a player who is primarily in the lineup to drive to the basket and play defense.