- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2018

Late last month, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon announced that sophomore forward and NBA prospect Justin Jackson, who hadn’t played since Dec. 7, would miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum.

Three days later, on New Year’s Eve, the Terrapins announced that junior forward Ivan Bender, expected to replace some of Jackson’s lost production, would also miss the remainder of the season with a torn meniscus.

Since then, Maryland has won eight of nine.

The Terrapins, written off by many after those decimating front court injuries, is holding a 14-4 record and is very much in contention for a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Their latest win, a hard-fought 91-73 home victory over Big Ten foe Iowa on Sunday night, demonstrated Maryland’s surprsing depth after losing two key contributors. Six Terrapins finished in double figures, with the Terps doing much of the damage inside, where they are supposedly thinnest.

“It’s why you recruit. You try to build depth,” said Turgeon, now in his seventh season at Maryland. “I’m not sure we have as much as I’d like after losing two guys … Do we have some depth? Yeah. Are we building more depth? Yeah.”

Without Jackson and Bender, Turgeon had to get creative with his lineup choices. Nine different players have started at least one game this season, with the Terrapins going small or tall depending on the situation.

For example, on Sunday Turgeon did something he had only done three times previously: start centers Michael Cekovsky and Bruno Fernando together. The combination worked against the Hawkeyes. The pair scored 34 of the team’s 56 points in the paint, with Fernando recording a career-high 21.

“That is one thing we haven’t really worked on a lot,” Fernando said after the game. “We have been working on Ceko [Cekovsky] and I being on the court at the same time only a few times. But we are doing a great job working with each other, knowing where the other one is on the court. It is always good to be on the court with him so we are working on building that relationship … so it benefits our team.”

While the makeup of Maryland’s frontcourt has been in flux, the backcourt duo of sophomores Anthony Cowan Jr. and Kevin Huerter is the team’s stable, reliable foundation. Cowan and Huerter have started all 18 games this season, averaging a team-high 16.2 and 14.1 points per game, respectively.

Turgeon praised his star guards, along with freshman standout Darryl Morsell, for consistency on both ends of the court.

“I just think at the one, two, and the three, with Darryl [Morsell] added to that, they’ve been very solid,” Turgeon said. “They’ve been very good, and I think for the most part those three have really guarded well … they feed off each other, they fit together nicely. They have different sizes and different skill sets, and they all got a real nice toughness to ‘em. Those three have been solid.”

The road gets no easier for Maryland as it proceeds through conference play. The Terrapins’ next game is away at Ohio State, the Buckeyes coming off a statement win over then-No. 1 Michigan State on Sunday.

On top of that, Maryland will be without guard Dion Wiley against the Buckeyes, the Oxon Hill, Md. native picking up a concussion against Iowa. But even with his roster shrinking and shrinking, Turgeon said he’s proud of how his team has performed in a season plagued by injuries.

“We know our schedule. We have the hardest schedule in the league and in my mind it’s not close,” Turgeon said. “There’s a lot of basketball ahead of us, and I do think we’re getting better … we’re confident, we have won eight out of nine, and even though we’ve had injuries we’ve gotten better. And that’s a good sign.”

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