Less than 24 hours after Maryland announced that Justin Jackson would miss the rest of the season with a torn right labrum, the sophomore forward sat next to the coaching staff in black sweats during Friday night's nonconference finale against Maryland Baltimore County. He wanted to offer counsel to teammates whenever he could, but in an ugly 66-45 win, Jackson probably didn't think it would be such a heavy lift.
All Jackson could do in the second half was remain seated when the arena fell quiet, all eyes on Ivan Bender hobbling around the court in pain. Bender was poised to play a critical role in helping shore up the power forward position with Jackson out, but that plan appeared to disintegrate when the redshirt junior grabbed his right knee as his team ran back on defense. He eventually hopped on his left leg back to the locker room.
Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said the team would know more on Bender's status Saturday, but Friday was the latest piece of player attrition for a wounded roster that will resume Big Ten play Tuesday night in College Park.
"Am I concerned about our team? Not really. Right now, we'll know more [Saturday] on Ivan. I thought he was really playing well," Turgeon said. "I think we know we have small margin of error with this team."
The impact of Jackson's absence was immediately clear Friday night against the pesky Retrievers; not only did Maryland have a more difficult time spacing the floor on offense without its versatile 6-foot-7 forward, but it also missed his length on the defensive end. Even more, Jackson had played through searing shoulder pain all season and still had averaged more than eight rebounds. That kind of sacrifice had galvanized Maryland (12-3, 1-1) as a tougher team, one that had outrebounded all but one opponent.
But none of that toughness and effort could be found in an embarrassing first half. Maryland recorded more turnovers (10) than field goals (six on 26 attempts) and trailed 24-18 at halftime. The worst stretch came with just over six minutes remaining in the half, when guard Jared Nickens was pick-pocketed by UMBC guard K.J. Maura.
"Terrible," Anthony Cowan Jr. said afterward when asked to describe the first half.
The Retrievers (8-6) missed a three-pointer a few seconds later, but Terrapins center Bruno Fernando couldn't handle an easy defensive rebound and watched it roll out of bounds for another turnover. He put his hands on his knees in frustration, looking a little defeated. Turgeon waded onto the floor to tell his freshman to pick his head up. He did, but he was pulled later in the half when he picked up a foul and emotionally tried to make his case to a referee. He eventually retreated to the bench and sat next to Jackson, who tapped Fernando on the right knee and whispered some words of advice.
Jackson appeared to encourage others as they came back to the bench. He stood up and celebrated each electrifying dunk by Kevin Huerter, who finished with 20 points, as well as each of the three three-pointers in the second half by Cowan. Those two sophomores and freshman Darryl Morsell (13 points overall) combined for 35 of Maryland's 48 second-half points.
Jackson "is an uplifting individual. He has our back 100 percent," Morsell said. "He's there for us all the time. Seeing somebody who is injured and not playing being real enthused about us is a great feeling."
That production from Cowan, Huerter and Morsell was expected all along, as was Friday's result, but it was clear Friday that Turgeon is still trying to figure out how to compensate in the frontcourt for Jackson's absence. Fernando was up and down, scoring eight points and grabbing nine rebounds; senior center Michal Cekovsky, who missed last week's win over Farleigh Dickinson with an ankle injury, played just 16 minutes and didn't score. But while those two fortify the center spot — Turgeon doesn't often play them together but credited both with playing lockdown defense in the second half — Bender's injury threw the power forward spot into a deeper state of flux.
Turgeon ran down the list of potential options Friday night, including playing Fernando and Cekovsky together, as well as deploying more small-ball lineups. For the second time in two days, he was looking for answers.
"We'll hope for the best. If something is wrong with Ivan," Turgeon said, "we'll figure it out."