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Three takeaways from Maryland men's basketball’s Orlando Invitational showing

The Terps won it all at Disney for Feast Week. Here’s what stood out.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

ORLANDO, Fla. — Maryland men’s basketball, now ranked the No. 3 team in the nation, did exactly what it needed to do during Feast Week.

While the Orlando Invitational isn’t a marquee event by any stretch of the imagination, the field — which included several NCAA Tournament prospects — still served as a potential speed bump for the Terps’ undefeated start to the season.

But Mark Turgeon’s team flew down to Florida and took care of business, sweeping the weekend to claim the tournament championship. After squeaking by its first two opponents due to slow starts, Maryland finally put everything together for its first complete, 40-minute game of the season in the 84-63 blowout of Marquette.

“Today we really played well,” Turgeon said after the win. “We’re getting closer to the team I thought we’d be.”

With that being said, here is what stood out from the week in Orlando.

1. Anthony Cowan Jr. is the unquestioned leader

Cowan has always been the straw that stirs the drink for Maryland, but given that it hasn’t made a Sweet 16 in his tenure, many questioned his ability to lead the team to great heights. And with past stars like Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando moving on to the NBA, those same questions were asked regarding his ability to be the guy for the Terps.

Maryland is somewhat known for coming up small in big moments, but that simply didn’t happen in Orlando. And a lot of that is due to the excellent play of the senior guard.

Across three games, he averaged 24 points on 51.1 percent shooting (9-of-20 from deep) with 4.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals across 35.3 minutes per game. He also hit big shot after big shot, providing a spark precisely when the team needed him most.

In the championship game, he matched up against Golden Eagles point guard Markus Howard, the nation’s leading scorer entering Sunday, and simply outplayed him. While Cowan wasn’t tasked with defending Howard often (Darryl Morsell and Aaron Wiggins spent most of the possessions guarding him), he outplayed him in every facet offensively to win the title.

Cowan scored 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting with three steals, four assists and just one turnover in 38 minutes of action. Howard had just six points on 1-of-12 shooting (0-of-6 from three) with four turnovers.

“Today he might have forced a couple plays, but he’s making all the right decisions, offensively and defensively. The game is just coming to him,” Turgeon said after the Marquette game. “I was really happy for Anthony. He was really consistent. And I played him too much, to be honest with you.”

He’ll have to keep up his play for the rest of the season — a tall task with a grueling Big Ten schedule still to come — and he’ll likely still have doubters no matter how he performs until the Terps go deep in March. But for now, Cowan is proving capable of leading Maryland, and the team will likely go as far as he takes it.

“[Cowan] likes to lead by example. Once he gets going, his energy gets picked up,” Morsell said after the Harvard game. “He’s been in a whole bunch of battles, and we respect him as our leader.”

2. Darryl Morsell had his coming out party

Morsell has always been regarded as a talented player, but consistency has eluded him through his first two years in College Park.

Year three started out the same. Against Oakland and Holy Cross, Morsell averaged 14.5 points on 11-of-15 shooting. In the other four games — including Thursday’s first round game against Temple — he averaged 3.3 on 5-of-22 shooting.

But in the final two games of the Orlando Invitational, Morsell was nearly perfect at every turn. Against Harvard, he posted his first career double-double, scoring 13 points and adding 12 boards, as well as a block, while being tasked with guarding prolific scorer Bryce Aiken.

“He definitely stepped up for us today, especially on the defensive end,” Cowan said after the game. “I think Darryl did one of the best possible jobs you can do on [Aiken], and that’s what we needed him to do.”

In the championship against Marquette, he was matched up against Markus Howard defensively and exceeded anyone’s expectations. Alongside Aaron Wiggins, they held the nation’s leading scorer entering Sunday — who had just put up 91 points in his last two games — to six points on 1-of-12 shooting, shutting him down in every way, shape and form.

“[Morsell] needs to get a lot of the credit,” Cowan said. “He doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves as a defender and he really showed out today.”

That’s not all Morsell did. He took a season-high 14 shots (the most he’s taken since Dec. 1, 2017) and was efficient in doing so, hitting seven. He also went 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, adding yet another tool to his arsenal.

Morsell finished with 17 points — second-most behind Cowan — while adding 10 rebounds, three assists and a block with no turnovers. His defense has never been in question, but he seems to be finally hitting his stride offensively.

“I was really proud of Darryl. He set the tone,” Turgeon said. “And then he started to make some smart plays in zone offense too, which really helped. And no turnovers for Darryl, that’s always a real big thing for us.”

If Morsell can find a consistent role on that end of the court, it could elevate Maryland into one of the best, if not the best, teams in the nation.

3. Mark Turgeon shrunk the rotation

Entering the 2019-20 season, depth was the most-used adjective for this Terps team. Unlike last year, options were going to be aplenty for Turgeon to deploy at any time.

That was the case early on the season, as Maryland used a combination of nine or 10 guys on any given night through its 5-0 start to the year.

But in Orlando, that all changed. Only seven players averaged double-digit minutes across the weekend, and in the final two contests against Harvard and Marquette, that number shrunk to just six.

Cowan, Wiggins and Eric Ayala all averaged at least 30 minutes per game, while Morsell and Jalen Smith checked in at 29 and 27.3, respectively. Freshman Donta played 18.3 minutes per game, while fellow first-year Makhi Mitchell averaged 12.3 — 9.0 in the last two games.

Given the lack of off-time in between games, most would have expected Turgeon to be looser with the rotation, not stricter. Given a pair of tight matchups in the first two rounds, the lineup decisions were not terribly shocking.

“You try to get a feel as the game goes on who’s helping you where,” Turgeon said after the win over Temple. “And we just felt at the end, we were playing the guys that were going to help us win. I do think we’re going going to be a deeper team as the year goes on, but today, we had to shrink [the rotation] a little bit.”

But even against Marquette — which ended up being a 21-point blowout — he didn’t empty the bench whatsoever.

Ricky Lindo Jr., who averaged 13 minutes per game in the first five of the season, played just eight against Temple and Harvard combined, and he didn’t even appear against the Golden Eagles. Fellow sophomore Serrel Smith Jr. had just three minutes all week.

Some of these personnel decisions could be matchup-based, but it seems that Turgeon has found a nucleus of players he trusts no matter the situation. The question is how that changes as the year goes on with younger players continuing to develop.