COLLEGE PARK — Maryland coach Mark Turgeon is using a stretch of non-conference games to get an extended look at some players and wait for a few others to recover from various ailments.
In the meantime, his team is learning some valuable lessons about playing hard from the opening tip.
Anthony Cowan scored 18 points, Kevin Huerter added 14 and Maryland overcame a sluggish start before pulling away from Division III Catholic 76-59 on Tuesday night.
“I think they were much more prepared and excited to play the game more than our guys were,” Turgeon said. “Guys have to be ready to play.”
The Terrapins (10-3) had three key players out of the lineup because of injuries. Forwards Justin Jackson (shoulder soreness) and Bruno Fernando (ankle sprain) missed their second straight game. Guard Dion Wiley (sick) was also unable to play.
Jared Nickens had 14 points for the Terrapins, who led by just six at the break.
Ivan Bender and Cowan hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 10-2 run to start the second half, extending Maryland’s lead to 47-33. From there, the Terrapins were not threatened the rest of the way.
Huerter and Nickens hit back-to-back shots from beyond the arc and Maryland led 53-35 with 14:32 remaining. The Terrapins, who have won four straight, played tighter man-to-man defense and finished with seven steals.
A dunk by Huerter boosted the margin to 60-38 and coach Mark Turgeon was able to rotate players. Maryland’s deep bench outscored Catholic 24-4.
“We didn’t come ready to play,” Nickens said. “The first four minutes of the game, we weren’t defending. We did a much better job with that in the second half. But that’s one of our weaknesses. We just have to come out, respect our opponent and be ready to play.”
Jay Howard, a NCAA Division III All-American candidate, led the Cardinals (9-4) with 20 points and Riley Hayes finished with 14.
The Cardinals did not have travel far for this matchup, driving about 3.5 miles from their Washington campus to Xfinity Center. Howard scored eight points and Catholic managed to take a 17-13 with just over 12:33 left in the first half.
“I think I should have asked one of the assistants to pinch me after the second media timeout,” Catholic coach Steve Howes said. “I thought I was dreaming a little. It was really cool to see their belief and effort pay off. If we can play that way for the rest of our schedule, we’re going to be really good.”
The Terrapins took their first lead, 18-17, when Nickens hit a jumper with 9:42 remaining. Catholic, though, would not go away easily. The Cardinals’ Jimmy Golaszewski (11 points) tied the game 27-27 with 4:39 left.
Howard made a layup in the final seconds and Catholic trailed just 37-31 at the half.
Maryland improved to 13-10 all-time in this series, which began during its first varsity season in 1910-11. Maryland won the last matchup against the Cardinals, 113-79, on Dec. 10, 1978.
The Cardinals hung tough with Maryland for more than a half. The performance should provide some confidence when they return to their Landmark Conference schedule. Catholic has made the NCAA Division III NCAA Tournament in three of the past five seasons.
The Terrapins entered the game shooting 50 percent from the floor this season, which ranked first in the Big Ten. That trend continued as Maryland went 26 of 51 (51 percent) against the Cardinals. Turgeon was able to get a look at several players who are competing for minutes.
The Cardinals return home Saturday for a non-conference against Gallaudet.
The Terrapins have nine days off until they host Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 21
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