When the Maryland men's basketball team faced Purdue on Dec. 1, it possessed several cogs it desperately wishes it still had: Justin Jackson, Ivan Bender and Michal Cekovsky.
Those key frontcourt players combine to average 20.4 points, 14.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. But even with that group in the lineup, the Terps lost 80-75 at home to the Boilermakers.
So, Maryland's margin of defeat was expected to widen significantly when it visited No. 3 Purdue on Wednesday down to eight scholarship players. And after just three and a half minutes, the Terps trailed by nine, with the contest threatening to inflict further damage to the squad's wilting confidence.
But instead of being run out of the gym as it was against Michigan State and Ohio State earlier in the month, Maryland kept the game respectable, losing 75-67 against one of the best teams in the country. The damage control maintained the mirage that the Terps can compete for an NCAA tournament bid despite Cekovsky's worrisome left heel injury, which he sustained Tuesday and will require him to visit a surgeon on Thursday.
Maryland remains in dire shape regarding its NCAA tournament hopes, having finished January with a meager 3-6 record. It'll likely need to win at least six out of its final seven regular season games — and probably seven of seven — to have a chance at March Madness.
But at least things never became too embarrassing Wednesday night. At this point, that's about as much as Terps fans can ask for against top-tier opposition.
Forward Bruno Fernando: A
Facing an impossible matchup as Maryland's lone starting big man against 7-foot-2 Purdue center Isaac Haas, Fernando overcame foul trouble to rack up 20 points and 10 rebounds. It was his second double-double of the season and first positive showing in weeks, a crucial step given Cekovsky's injury.
Guard Kevin Huerter: A-
Though four fouls prevented him from an even better performance by limiting him to 32 minutes, he made the most of his time on the floor, nailing four 3-pointers and committing just one turnover.
Guard Darryl Morsell: A-
Something that's flown under the radar: Morsell has now recorded at least five rebounds in each of his past eight games. His nine boards against the Boilermakers marked a career high. With less height on the floor than earlier in the campaign, he'll need to continue that trend down the stretch.
Guard Anthony Cowan: B
Cowan pretty much disappeared offensively in the second half, scoring only three points on 1-for-5 shooting. Even though he dished seven assists in that span, the Terps could have used more assertiveness in crunch time, though he appeared to be playing through a thumb injury.
Sean Obi: D
If Obi had played well, it would've relieved some of the pressure created by Cekovsky's absence. Instead, he fouled out in eight minutes of work with little to show for it, not taking advantage of his opportunity to see more playing time than usual.