Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon often found himself making difficult rotation decisions at the end of last season.
After center Michal Cekovsky fractured his ankle in February, the Terps’ other big men battled foul trouble nearly every game, forcing Turgeon to improvise with new players down low.
Maryland’s frontcourt has looked stronger this year, but Turgeon was again in a bind with more than eight minutes remaining in the first half of his team’s 82-60 win over Gardner-Webb on Saturday.
Center Sean Obi and forward Ivan Bender each had two fouls, while forwards Bruno Fernando (sprained ankle) and Justin Jackson (illness) were inactive. So, Turgeon turned to forward Joshua Tomaic, a redshirt freshman who had played just 17 minutes entering Saturday.
Maryland’s issues allowed Gardner-Webb to outrebound it, 18-16, in the first half, including earning three more offensive boards, preventing the Terps from gaining a large lead.
The second half played out differently, as Cekovsky and Bender combined for 12 points, but the performance showed Maryland needs its big men to stay out of foul trouble when their frontcourt teammates are sidelined.
“We should be efficient against their team,” Turgeon said, “whether we have two starters out or not.”
Maryland (9-3) entered Saturday averaging 17.2 turnovers per game, and the Terps especially struggled taking care of the ball against zone defenses. The Terps moved the ball better against the Bulldogs’ 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones, committing 11 giveaways.
Guard Darryl Morsell, who helped Maryland break Syracuse’s 2-3 zone on Nov. 27, continued to thrive on the high post, scoring a career-high 18 points. The next step for Morsell, who’s shooting 1-for-9 on threes this season, is finding a rhythm beyond the arc. Guard Kevin Huerter added 15 points.
Bender, who flashed on the high post against zones last season, also helped the Terps crack those schemes by dishing out seven of the team’s 21 assists.
“We’re just building a better chemistry over time,” Morsell said. “It’s my first time playing with them. We’re starting to find each other’s spots.”
While Tomaic likely wouldn’t have played in the first half if Fernando and Jackson were healthy, he took advantage of his largest career opportunity. The Canary Islands native, who Turgeon called the team’s hardest worker, set career highs in points (nine), rebounds (six) and minutes (16).
“He’s a guy who never backs down,” Huerter said. “There can be a lot of guys who say excuses-wise, ‘I’m not as big as these guys. I’m not as strong as these guys.’ Josh never seems to use that.”
Still, if Maryland was playing a more formidable opponent, the Terps may fallen behind with their other frontcourt players on the bench, as they did at times last season. The good news for Maryland is Turgeon believes Jackson will likely return against Catholic on Tuesday and feels optimistic Fernando will be back before the Terps’ next Big Ten game on Jan. 2.
Until they return to full strength, Maryland’s reserve big men will receive opportunities to prove they belong in the rotation and can help revert Maryland’s weaknesses in the paint last postseason.
“There are a lot of guys on this team that deserve to play that don’t maybe get the minutes they want,” Huerter said. “Josh got his opportunity with foul trouble. He was ready to play.”