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Having fun and playing fast, Maryland men’s basketball is feeling it

Against Indiana, the Terps showcased how good they can be when they let the pressure go and just play the game they love.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Cowan Jr. stared down the TV camera, threw both arms into the air and flexed his biceps. The senior guard then gave a little shimmy before high-fiving a fan sitting courtside and embracing with his teammates.

He had just scored an and-one bucket to extend No. 15 Maryland men’s basketball’s lead to 20 points with around five minutes remaining against Indiana, and he and his fellow Terps were feeling it.

“Don’t worry about winning. Don’t worry about losing. Just have fun,” Darryl Morsell recalled head coach Mark Turgeon telling the team in the locker room pregame.

The Terps were able to peel away the pressure and truly enjoy the game of basketball Saturday, and it translated into the team’s best performance since the first week of December.

Though Maryland once again struggled offensively to start the game, it played at a high level through the second part of the first half, which carried over into a second half that saw the team shoot 48.4 percent from floor.

After averaging 17.67 turnovers over its last three games, Maryland committed just seven against the Hoosiers (five before the bench was emptied in the final minutes), which ties for a season-low. And the team regained its strength of turning defense into offense as well, scoring 25 points off 14 Indiana turnovers — its most since Dec. 1 against Marquette.

“When you’re getting a lot of stops, getting in transition, it starts getting fun,” Cowan said. “The crowd gets into it. There’s not a better place to play than Xfinity when it’s like that.”

According to players, Turgeon placed a big emphasis on both of those factors in practice leading up to the game. The Terps head coach reminded his players of the unique opportunity they have to compete at such a high level for this program, reminding them to soak it all in and enjoy it. He wanted his group to get back to having fun, while playing with energy and as a team.

On the more technical side of things, practices had a heavy focus around the transition game, with everyone recognizing they play best when they can force stops, get out and run.

“Practice really carried over today. It’s good. It’s a good feeling,” Turgeon said. “As a coach, you just want your guys to play to their ability and have fun when they’re doing it. We’re not going to do it every night and it’s not going to be easy, but today we did it.”

The amount of fun the Terps were having was evident, especially after big plays — many of which came from the team’s high energy and transition efforts.

After Cowan made his free throw on the and-one bucket, Maryland quickly got back after it on the defensive end. Hoosier guard Armaan Franklin attempted a pass to forward Jerome Hunter, but Morsell had his eyes on it the whole time.

The Terp guard sprinted from his position outside the paint to intercept the ball in its path with his right hand and then took off towards the other end. He ran down the sideline and passed it off to Cowan, who sent the ball back to his teammate on an underhand lob inside the paint. Morsell took a big leap to the basket, and despite being fouled mid-air, managed to bank a layup in off the backboard.

As the ball went in, Jalen Smith clenched his fists below his waist and let out an emphatic scream while Cowan twirled around to celebrate with the bench. Morsell accidentally fell into the camera man on his way down, knocking him out of his seat. Aaron Wiggins rushed over and the pair helped him back up, with all three laughing and smiling from ear to ear by the time he was back in his seat.

Once Morsell made his free-throw attempt, the Terps’ lead had swelled to 26 points. The advantage eventually reached 30 points before Turgeon emptied the bench in a game where the team found its groove back.

“We had a lot of fun today,” Wiggins said postgame. “I mean, we were sharing the ball, playing together as a team. And when we’re like that, we’re a really good team. So we just got to continue to do it.”