Anthony Cowan Jr. breaks out as Maryland handles Butler


Anthony Cowan Jr. breaks out as Maryland handles Butler

Anthony Cowan Jr. breaks out as Maryland handles Butler:-Maryland point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. was 25 feet from the rim with the ball in his hands late in Wednesday night’s game against Butler. The shot clock hit five seconds and the Terrapins led by just five. A year ago, as a freshman who often deferred in offensive sets and had struggled to shoot just 32 percent from three-point range, Cowan would’ve never dared to pull up and let one fly.

But he is an entirely new player, a sophomore who has become the unquestioned leader of the Terrapins. Cowan took matters into his own hands in a 79-65 victory over the Bulldogs at Xfinity Center. When the ball went through the net, he didn’t react. He simply turned his attention to defense.

Cowan finished with a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds, which was crucial on a night when Maryland (3-0) committed 20 turnovers and forward Justin Jackson struggled with just four points. Maryland used full-throttle effort all night against the Big East opponent, securing its first big win of the season, especially on the defensive end. After Cowan hit that crucial three-pointer to give his team a 64-56 lead with 6:06 remaining, freshman forward Darryl Morsell stripped Butler star Kelan Martin and finished a dunk at the other end to extend the lead to 10 over the Bulldogs (2-1).

Cowan, a former All-Met from St. John’s in the District, also had five assists on the most productive offensive night of his career, which came as Maryland shot 57 percent from the field and hit nine three-pointers. Cowan drilled three three-pointers and was 12-for-15 from the free throw line.

Wednesday night’s performance made a strong case that this could be the most versatile team Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon has had in his seven years in College Park. Instead of using size in his starting lineup as he had in wins over Stony Brook and Maryland-Eastern Shore, Turgeon opted to start a three-guard lineup to counter a quick Butler team that didn’t start any player over 6-foot-8.

That meant redshirt junior Dion Wiley (11 points) made his first start since December of 2014, his freshman season, and he delivered. He hit four of his first six shots on a night when the entire rotation chipped into a balanced scoring effort. In building a 42-35 halftime lead, Maryland shot 70.8 percent from the field and hit 6 of its 10 three-pointers, with 17 field goals coming on 12 assists.

Even with a heavy dose of early-season sloppiness — after taking control of the first half with a 12-0 run to take a 32-20 lead, Maryland committed three turnovers in 88 seconds to allow Butler to whittle its deficit back to six — Turgeon’s team played with relentless effort. Most of Butler’s transition opportunities were met with resistance at the rim; after Ivan Bender forced a missed layup on a fast break, Bruno Fernando finished a layup at the other end to give his team a two-point lead with 12:45 remaining in the first half. Morsell followed suit with a block of his own in transition later in the first half, which led to a Kevin Huerter three-pointer to give Maryland a 10-point lead with 6:06 remaining in the first half.

Those are the kind of plays that Turgeon wants to forge an identity around, and having the grit of both Fernando (eight points) and Morsell should help in that effort. Fernando made his first career start in last Sunday’s win over Maryland-Eastern Shore, but Turgeon had questioned whether that was a wise move. The freshman power forward certainly looked more comfortable coming off the bench Wednesday, hitting four of five shots from the field as Maryland once against established itself on the interior.

Maryland won the rebounding battle 40-27, including by a 19-8 margin the first half.