Will New Look Offense Be Enough For the Terps to Win in Lincoln—Dave Lomonico of terrapintimes.com

Maryland had just suffered arguably its most demoralizing defeat of the season, a 91-69 defeat at Ohio State where the Terps didn’t look like they belonged in the building with the Buckeyes. Even the 30-point loss at Michigan State eight days prior wasn’t quite as egregious, surmised UMD head coach Mark Turgeon, considering Maryland played well for one first-half stretch.

But that OSU loss Jan. 12 forced Turgeon’s hand, and he knew drastic changes had to be made. Particularly on offense, where Maryland’s dribble-drive had resulted in stagnated half-court sets; limited ball-movement; and almost nonexistent cutting. As a result, foes found it relatively easy to lock down the Terps’ two main offensive threats, guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, leaving the pair obviously frustrated at times.

So, Turgeon decided to move away from the popular modern-day offense, which trumpets isolations; high ball screens; and drive-and-kick action.

“We went to Michigan State and Ohio State and I literally could not get Kevin or Anthony an open look. We started slowly [offensively after OSU], but it just kind of evolved and we’ve added things to it,” Turgeon said on a teleconference Feb. 12. “It was about trying to create stuff you couldn’t scout as much. I was really leery to do it, but I felt I had to do it. And it’s actually been better than I thought it would be. It’s been good for us…. . I think us running more freelance, more old-school passing game, more motion has kind of helped us.”

Turgeon was correct; the Terps didn’t take to the “old-school O” right away — at least, in the won-loss column. Maryland followed up the OSU game with a one-point loss at Michigan, a victory at Minnesota; and then three straight defeats at Indiana, at home against MSU and at Purdue. But in those games the Terps shot, in succession, 48 percent from the field; 55.6 percent from the field; 41 percent; 43 percent; and 45.3 percent. Then, in the last three affairs, Maryland has converted at a 49 percent rate in a win against Wisconsin; a 54.3 percent rate in a loss at Penn State; and a 53 percent rate in a victory over Northwestern. Statistics can’t be taken in a vacuum, but if you look at UMD’s last eight games, its shooting percentage is top three in the Big Ten.

“We’ve been pretty good offensively … we’ve been better,” Turgeon said. “[The Northwestern] game was different because they played a matchup zone, and we were really the first team to create problems for them. I was proud of our guys in that game.

“I might not run a certain call for three games, so that team [we’re playing next] might not work through that play. We ran a series versus Wisconsin, and I haven’t run it since. It’s helped us. Anthony ran it in high school, Kevin has a feel for it, and Jared Nickens is good in it too.”

Prior to that eight-game stretch, Maryland’s offensive issues mainly came to a head away from Xfinity Center. The dribble-drive actually worked fairly well in decisive home victories against Iowa and Penn State, and even the Terps first loss against Purdue in December.

Which begs the question, Is this “new” offense easier to execute on the road, where Maryland has won just once all year?

“Yes and no,” Turgeon said. “At times it’s easier if we’re good in it. It’s a little bit harder to scout. But I think the thing is, is every game you tweak it a little bit depending on how [the opponent] guards you. …

“Now, does it help us when the crowd gets into it like at Purdue? We were really good in our passing offense and our motion in the second half [against the Boilermakers], and that helped us stick around. I think our guys are starting to realize they can use it as a weapon to wear teams down a little bit, and especially on the road it can keep us in games. … But as long as guys are making the right reads and taking the right shots, I’m good with it in any building.”

The improved offensive execution was just one of many positive takeaways from UMD’s latest win against Northwestern Feb. 10. But one reoccurring issue is freshman big man Bruno Fernando’s consistency on both ends.

Against Northwestern, the 6-10 center played 25 minutes and basically pulled a disappearing act on offense, going 0-for-2 from the field. But defensively he was more aggressive, probably due to the presence of fellow big Michal Cekovsky, who allows Fernando to play without having to worry about foul trouble. Fernando had three blocks, which is his highest total against a Big Ten foe.

Before the Wildcats’ affair, Fernando had an impressive 13 points and nine boards against Penn State, but then he turned the ball over six times and had problems on the defensive end. And prior to that, against Wisconsin, Fernando pulled down nine more rebounds, but he did little offensively and coughed the ball up on three occasions.

His best game came Jan. 31 against Purdue, when Fernando had 20 points and a career-high 10 rebounds in 26 minutes. Yes, he did turn it over on three occasions, but if he can show off that kind of offensive arsenal – which has expanded to include a nifty midrange jumper – and keep playing defense like he did against Northwestern, well, the Terps could have a shot to run the table in their final four regular-season games.

“I think he’s matured in a lot of areas,” Turgeon said of Fernando. “I think defensively he’s come a long way. He’s always been a shot blocker and off-the-ball pretty good, but his post defense has gotten better and his awareness has gotten better. … His emotions throughout a game are getting better, and his feel offensively has gotten better. It was hard on [Feb. 10] to get Bruno going, because [the Wildcats] were zoning, but he’s come a long ways.

“I think he’s in pretty good shape right now. … He’s gotten better, working harder, and he’s able to play longer stretches. Considering all the ankle injuries he’s had and the sickness, he seems to be doing pretty well.”

As aforementioned, Cekovsky’s return should help Fernando — and Maryland in general. The 7-foot Slovakian, who missed the previous three bouts with a heel injury, scored only four points and didn’t have a rebound in 15 minutes Feb. 10. However, his length alone should give the Terps another somewhat effective rim protector. Plus, Cekovsky should be able to hold his own on the glass, keeping teams from racking up offensive rebounds and recording put-backs. The last four games, Maryland’s opponents have had at least nine offensive boards.

“I thought [Cekovsky] was a little bit rusty in the game, but it’s good to have him back just to have that length around the rim. His ball-screen defense was terrific,” Turgeon said after the Northwestern game. “He had a good understanding of what we were trying to do offensively too, being an upperclassman. Hopefully he can stay healthy the rest of the way because we need him.”

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