Maryland sophomore forward Justin Jackson has a torn right labrum and will miss the remainder of the season, Terrapins Coach Mark Turgeon said Thursday.
“We’ve known he’s been hurt for a while. Ever since we started sitting him out, we knew he had an injury and it was something we thought he could play through. But we just decided over Christmas that it wasn’t in the best interest of Justin,” Turgeon said.
While the loss of Jackson changes the complexion of Maryland’s season, it is the final blow for what had been a difficult season for the highly touted forward, who nearly entered the NBA draft last spring after a promising freshman season and a solid showing at the draft combine in Chicago. He opted to return to school to add polish to his professional stock and serve as the centerpiece for Maryland (11-3), which will close nonconference play against UMBC on Friday night and resume its Big Ten schedule against Penn State on Tuesday.
But as Jackson tried to play through the shoulder pain, he largely struggled offensively in his 11 games, shooting just 36.6 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from three-point range. Those numbers were a steep decline from his production as a freshman, when he shot 43.8 percent from the field and dazzled scouts with his ability to shoot from deep. He also hit 43.8 percent from three-point range last year, but the only glimpse of that ability this season came when he finished with 20 points in an overtime win at Illinois in early December. A few days later, Turgeon said his star forward was dealing with soreness in his shooting shoulder, and Jackson played just 19 minutes in the win over Ohio. He has been on the shelf since, sitting out wins over Gardner-Webb, Catholic and Fairleigh Dickinson. Turgeon had hoped that soft schedule and the time off over the holidays would help Jackson recuperate.
“It’s an old injury. It happened before he came to Maryland, is what the doctors told me. He reaggravated it a lot this year. So he’s a tough sucker,” Turgeon said. “A torn labrum is a pretty significant injury; it’s pretty painful, and he tried to play through it for his team.”
Turgeon now must tinker with his rotation to make up for Jackson’s absence at power forward. While Jackson’s offensive numbers have been paltry – he’s averaging just 9.8 points, fourth on the team behind sophomores Anthony Cowan Jr. (15.6) and Kevin Huerter (13.7) and freshman Bruno Fernando (10.3) – Jackson helped Maryland establish itself as a more physical team and is the team’s leading rebounder at 8.1 boards per game. No other Maryland player is averaging more than the 5.8 rebounds Fernando is pulling down.
Compounding the loss of Jackson is Maryland’s ongoing health issues at other spots on the roster, especially in the frontcourt. Fernando is still dealing with a left ankle sprain suffered in the win over Ohio and has played in just one game since. Senior center Michal Cekovsky sat out last Thursday’s win over Fairleigh Dickinson with a right ankle injury, and redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley has missed the past two games with an illness. All of those players are expected to return to the rotation for Friday night’s game. The improved health of Fernando and Cekovsky is particularly important at center, given that junior big man Ivan Bender will be expected to help fill in at power forward with Jackson out. Bender has played 19 percent of the team’s minutes at power forward over the past five games, according to analytics site kenpom.com.
“Justin obviously allowed us to play a lot of different ways,” Huerter said.
Maryland might also have to play more small ball with the loss of Jackson; that likely means increased minutes for 6-foot-7, 205-pound senior Jared Nickens, who is more of a natural small forward but has logged nearly a quarter of his minutes as a stretch-four over the past five games. It could also be an opportunity for redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic, a slender, 6-9, 220-pound forward who has shown signs as a capable scorer and rim protector over the past month but is still only averaging 8.1 minutes.
It was assumed Jackson could leave for the NBA draft this spring after flirting with the process following his freshman year, but that is unlikely now. Nonetheless, Maryland must deal with his absence far sooner than it had expected.
“It is tough, because we set up a lot of our offense for Justin. A lot of things were set up through him. Plus he’s very versatile: He can play the four and the three,” Turgeon said. “It changes our dynamic; it changes a little bit how we’re going to play. But we have good players. Guys will have to step up.”