It looked like the same old story for Maryland men’s basketball in the first half. The Terps were struggling against the zone defense, missing open three pointers, and trailing against an inferior opponent, this time 22-19, to Howard with 6:56 left.
But then Maryland started to take advantage of Michal Cekovsky’s height advantage down low as the junior had five inches on every Howard player who saw the floor. He had six points to lead a 15-2 Maryland run, and then slammed home a pass from Jaylen Brantley with 1:13 left in the first half.
“We shot more early threes than we wanted too, and in the timeout Coach Turgeon said our key to the game was to work inside out. We wanted to get the ball to Ceko inside and we did,” freshman Kevin Huerter said.
Cekovsky tied a career high with 16 points, and the Terps (9-1) came away with a 79-56 win over Howard (1-6). He was also a late addition to the starting lineup, as the team announced a few hours before the game that Damonte Dodd will miss the next three games with a sprained MCL.
Head coach Mark Turgeon said that Cekovsky was playing his way into the starting lineup, but also said he thinks the 7-foot-1 center has only scratched the surface of his potential.
“I coach him more than anybody on this team and he probably hears my voice in his sleep,” Turgeon said. “There’s a lot of potential there.”
Maryland also got a spark off the bench from Jaylen Brantley for the second straight game. The junior scored 14 points, following a 12-point effort against Oklahoma State.
“I think confidence is a lot, but I think just me being more comfortable has helped me a lot. I feel like I belong now,” Brantley said.
Maryland has had slow starts in almost every game this season, but got out to a 7-0 lead in the first 2:24. The Terps have struggled against zone defense this season, but broke it easily with a layup from Cekovsky on their first possession, and then a three pointer from Justin Jackson a minute later.
Maryland then struggled to get the ball inside against the zone, and started to settle for threes. The Terps started the game 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, but then went 1 for their next 9.
The Bison took advantage, nailing three straight three pointers to take a 19-18 lead with 7:41 left to go in the first half. Following a three by Charles Mangham that extended Howard’s lead to 22-19, the Terps started to look inside.
Cekovsky was able to get easy layups and Maryland’s guards attacked the basket and got to the foul line, and the Terps led 38-31 at halftime.
Maryland started to pull away in the second half, hitting five of its first six three point attempts of the half after shooting 33 percent on threes in the previous 20 minutes. Threes from Huerter, Melo Trimble, Anthony Cowan, Brantley, and Jared Nickens extended the lead to 61-42 with 12:02 left.
“When we play inside out, we are going to make more shots,” Cekovsky said. “They’re going to be more open when we penetrate.”
Huerter agreed, saying that once the Terps started going inside, it opened up a lot more wide open shots on the perimeter.
Maryland’s lead grew to 26 with 1:33 left, and walk-ons Andrew Terrell and Travis Valmon were on the floor for the final 1:33.
The Terps are back in action on Saturday when they take on Saint Peter’s University at noon at the Xfinity Center.