Maryland men’s basketball’s Jaylen Brantley saw forward Michal Cekovsky, unguarded, roll to the basket late the first half Saturday against Ohio State. So, the reserve guard launched a pass from the top of the key toward the rim. Cekovsky corralled the ball in midair and threw down a two-handed dunk, putting the Terps up, 38-34, and igniting the sellout Xfinity Center crowd.
The announced 17,950 fans cheered even louder on the next possession when Cekovsky sent home another slam, this time courtesy of guard Melo Trimble, prompting Buckeyes coach Thad Matta to use a timeout.
The flushes marked two of the more emphatic baskets the reserves scored in Maryland’s 86-77 win. In halting their two-game losing skid, the Terps outscored the Buckeyes’ reserves, 33-0, with Brantley (11 points) and Cekovsky (seven points) leading the charge.
“The bottom line was our bench was terrific,” Turgeon said. “I mean, 33 points off the bench. They didn’t have a deep bench tonight, and we were able to wear them down because of it.”
The reserves’ performances came when the Terps’ top two scorers offered little offensive production. Guard Melo Trimble, who entered the contest averaging 16.9 points, scored 10, missing eight of his 11 attempts. Forward Justin Jackson’s three points on 1 of 7 shooting marked one of the freshman’s worst offensive outings.
Guard Anthony Cowan, who dealt with first-half foul trouble, scored three of his team-high 19 points before intermission, so Maryland’s substitutes provided the spark for a 45-31 lead.
It started with Cekovsky’s foul shot about eight minutes into the game. A possession later, forward L.G. Gill knocked down his third 3-pointer of the season to put Maryland up, 16-11.
On the Terps’ ensuing 11-4 run, spanning about the next three minutes, Brantley displayed his versatility with a layup and two 3-pointers, the second of which pushed the lead to double digits.
Brantley’s teammates encouraged him to shoot every time he had an open look despite missing three of his four treys in Tuesday’s six-point loss at Penn State. Against the Buckeyes, Brantley also took four 3-pointers, this time knocking down three. His eight first-half points were second behind Trimble.
“It’s great because Jaylen wasn’t coming off his best game,” Turgeon said. “You could tell it was eating at him. He couldn’t wait to play today.”
Brantley managed seven minutes in the final frame, often watching from the sidelines as Cowan and fellow freshman guard Kevin Huerter combined for 27 second-half points to stave off Ohio State’s comeback bid. The rookies each drilled a top-of-the-key longball late in the shot clock to ensure Maryland maintained the advantage.
The reserves’ scoring production dipped at that point, but their contributions remained important.
Cekovsky, despite playing six minutes in the period, secured four defensive rebounds. Turgeon said forward Ivan Bender was the team’s best post defender in the second half, earning him 15 total minutes in a six-point, two-rebound, three-assist performance.
“You look at their team, and Mark’s probably got the luxury of starting whoever he wants in terms of the big rotation,” Matta said. “Those guys come in and appear to have a great understanding of what their job is.”
While the Terps’ starters struggled early, the reserves found their shots. When Huerter and Cowan provided the offensive burst later on, they deferred to the freshmen duo.
Many fans will likely remember the latter development, especially the smiles on Cowan and Huerter’s faces when they bailed out Maryland with crucial long-range buckets.
Cowan, meanwhile, will also remember the other players’ contributions that positioned the Terps for that moment.
“That’s been our team all year,” Cowan said. “It’s not only the starting five that’s supposed to get the job done. It’s the whole team.”