Whenever guard Eric Ayala looked toward the Maryland men’s basketball bench during the second half against Northwestern, he saw guard Anthony Cowan, mired in an offensive slump but still completely locked in on the action.

In three of the past five games, Cowan — who leads the team with 16.2 points per game — has scored in single digits. Seeing him engaged against the Wildcats, though, showed Ayala that the junior follows through with his leadership responsibilities.

Maryland, the third-youngest team in the country, has found ways to win despite its veteran ball handler’s recent lack of production. In most cases, forwards Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith have shouldered the load.

But when No. 12 Purdue visits College Park on Tuesday, the No. 24 Terps will likely need a return to form on offense from Cowan as he lines up against the Big Ten’s leading scorer in guard Carsen Edwards.

“He knows he hasn’t shot the ball well recently,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “He’s just got to get back to being Anthony, and just not put pressure on himself. Just relax and let it come within the flow of the game.”

[Read more: Maryland men’s basketball’s big men power 60-45 win over Nebraska]

Cowan hasn’t allowed his in-game struggles to carry over to the practice court.

After a packed slate in January limited its practice time, the six-day gap between Maryland’s win over Nebraska and Tuesday’s matchup against Purdue has finally allowed the team a prolonged stretch to practice — and, perhaps more importantly, rest.

To prevent fatigue, Turgeon has rested his players more than he has in past years, and Ayala credits Cowan with making sure the fewer practice hours have been productive.

“He’s been treating it like it’s a game,” Ayala said. “We need that this time of the year. You know, us freshmen, this is our first rodeo. And he’s picked it up a lot, especially in practice, and we need that from our leaders to show us the way.”

[Read more: No. 21 Maryland men’s basketball falls short on the road at No. 24 Wisconsin, 69-61]

Amid Cowan’s unflattering shooting lines — he’s hitting at a 29.4 percent clip the past five games — those around him have picked up the slack.

Smith, Fernando and Ayala combined for 31 points against the Cornhuskers. With Cowan on the bench for all but four minutes after halftime against Northwestern, Smith and Fernando led the offense again.

“Somebody may not show up one game,” Smith said. “But we know that we’ve got maybe 14 other people on the team, so somebody’s going to step up.”

It helps that even as Cowan struggles on one end of the floor, his defense has remained stellar.

Last week against Nebraska, he held guard Glynn Watson — who came in averaging 12.7 points on 42.6 percent shooting — to an 0-for-10 performance from the floor. It was just the second scoreless game of Watson’s career.

The Terps’ path to an upset of the Boilermakers will be much easier if Cowan can return to form on offense, but his task won’t be easy.

When Maryland lost to Purdue, 62-60, in December, Cowan scored 18 points but attempted a season-high 17 shots, hitting just four. He went 2-for-10 from beyond the arc, forcing shots despite often being blanketed on the perimeter.

Boilermakers guard Nojel Eastern keyed in on Cowan at the end of both halves, blocking last-ditch three-point attempts after Cowan failed to create space.

Despite his cold spell, Cowan can likely expect heavy attention Tuesday as well. And the Terps may need him to snap out of it if they want to remain in the top-four conversation of the Big Ten.

“They’re going to guard him. He gets the best defender every night,” Turgeon said. “But hopefully, when he gets the opportunities, he takes advantage.”