For about 15 minutes, Maryland basketball was locked in a tight battle with Marshall. The Terps had just gone on an 11-0 run, only for Thundering Herd forward Jannson Williams to score eight unanswered points and make it a 34-32 game with 5:24 left in the first half.
From that point, though, Maryland went on a 32-6 run. The lead went from two to 28 over the next nine minutes. It would stretch as high as 46 and finish at 37. The Terps went from having their undefeated record under threat to earning their most dominant win of the season.
“That wasn’t a game. That was a trouncing,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “They played extremely well. They punched us in the mouth and we didn’t get back up.”
Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando played like the stars Maryland needed them to become this season. Cowan turned in perhaps his best college performance, scoring 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting with seven rebounds and four assists. With Marshall playing primarily a man defense, Cowan made a killing from driving past his man to the hoop and finishing at the rim. Fernando had 18 points and was a monster on the glass, tying a career high with 16 boards.
Three other players scored at least 10 points, making this the third straight game Maryland has had five or more players in double figures. Jalen Smith and Darryl Morsell each had 10 points and five rebounds. But Eric Ayala was as vital as anyone. The freshman entered Friday just 4-of-14 from deep his season, but made his first three triples and finished 5-of-6 from three-point range. Ayala’s shooting was one of his weaknesses entering college, but after missing his first five college attempts, he’s now 9-of-15 since.
“It just shows the work that I’ve put in on my shot,” Ayala said. “I’m working every day on it. There’s not a day go by that I don’t work on my three. I know at this level, you’ve got to make three-point shots, and for me to reach my potential, I’ve got to be able to shoot that consistently.”
Maryland did just about everything right on Friday. The Terps shot 35-of-61 from the floor (57.4 percent) and 9-of-16 from three-point range (56.3 percent). They grabbed 52 rebounds to Marshall’s 30, and tallied 18 second-chance points while allowing just four. Maryland stifled Marshall’s top scoring guards, as Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks combined to shoot 5-of-28 for 16 points; they entered Friday’s game each averaging 23 and 21, respectively.
Maryland is an incredibly young team, with five freshmen in what’s looking like a more concrete eight-man rotation. But the Terps showed what they can be going forward, and there’s a lot to love. Maryland’s length on defense will challenge everyone it plays. The Terps have two consistent rebounders in Fernando and Smith, and they’ve dominated teams on the boards this year. And after struggling to make shots in its early games, Maryland flaunted a fantastic inside-out game Friday, with 46 points in the paint and 27 more coming on nine threes.
Turnovers are still as much of a cause for concern as anything—Maryland had 19 in this one and 18 on Sunday, although that’s after not committing more than 12 in its first four contests. The Terps also struggled from the foul line in the second half, as Smith missed his last four attempts to finish 6-of-12 and five players missed one foul shot each. Maryland isn’t perfect, but it came stunningly close Friday.
This game wasn’t supposed to be a blowout. Marshall won an NCAA Tournament game last year and returned its best players. Even with the game in College Park, Maryland was only favored by 7.5 points. But instead of playing sluggish the day after Thanksgiving, the Terps looked hungry on the court.
“There was probably some rumblings going around that we were gonna lose tonight,” Turgeon said. “And so our guys, they didn’t like that. ... Tonight I could tell they were focused because Marshall’s a good team and they’re a great program. They’re averaging 94 a game, we held them to 67 and we played everybody. So our guys were dialed in.”
After an incredibly soft start to the schedule, Maryland is entering a crucial point in its season. The Terps’ next game is against No. 4 Virginia, who will enter College Park fresh off a Battle 4 Atlantis championship. After that, it’s two conference games against Penn State and at Purdue, followed by a Baltimore matchup with Loyola-Chicago. But Maryland responded emphatically to the first game in this stretch, and there’s plenty of reason to be confident going forward.
“In the next two weeks, we’ll find out how good we really are,” Turgeon said. “But we’re getting better, and that’s what I can see, so I’m pleased with that.”