For the first time in 13 seasons, the Maryland men’s basketball team is 8-0.

The No. 5 Terps captured the Orlando Invitational championship Thanksgiving weekend, winning three contests in two different ways. Maryland overcame poor starts to hold off Temple and Harvard Nov. 28 and 29, then dominated Marquette in the title game Dec. 1.

Senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. earned tournament MVP honors after scoring 72 points in Maryland’s three games. The rest of the Terps’ core stepped up throughout the weekend, and head coach Mark Turgeon’s team turned in a championship performance in the tournament’s final game.

Nov. 28: Maryland 76, Temple 69

Cowan turned in a career performance, scoring 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting (4-of-8 from deep). The Terps needed every ounce of it, as the rest of the roster struggled for most of the game. Eric Ayala and Jalen Smith pulled through late, combining to score nine of Maryland’s last 11 points and finish with 13 and 12, respectively.

Maryland got off to its customary slow start, falling behind, 16-7, thanks to four Temple triples. The Terps switched to zone and went on a 9-0 run to level the score, but failed to take control of the contest from there. Temple continued to answer, taking a 34-29 lead into halftime. Maryland pulled ahead early in the second half, leading by as many as five, but this was still a tie game at 62-62 with 3:14 remaining.

Down the stretch, the Terps’ stars carried them to victory. Cowan hit a three to give Maryland a 65-62 lead, then Ayala scored seven straight to make it 72-67. When the Terps needed to hit their free throws, Cowan, Ayala and Smith went 6-of-6 to push Maryland into the semifinals.

Nov. 29: Maryland 80, Harvard 73

In a season of slow starts, this one was particularly atrocious. Maryland committed five turnovers during its first seven possessions to fall behind, 9-0, and it took the Terps until late in the first half to tie the score. Harvard took a 35-31 lead into the locker room and led as late as the 10:17 mark, but Maryland pulled away for another victory.

The Terps’ entire top five — Cowan, Smith, Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell — took control of this contest. All five scored in double figures, and the group combined to score all 49 of Maryland’s second-half points. Cowan entered the locker room with three points, but scored 17 in the second half to finish with a team-high 20. Smith (15 points and 10 rebounds) and Morsell (13 and 12) each tossed up double-doubles, while Wiggins (13 and 9) nearly joined them.

Once again, Maryland improved on both sides of the ball in the second half. After starting 1-of-10 from long range, the Terps went 6-of-10 on threes in the second half, highlighted by Cowan and Wiggins going 5-of-7. Maryland also leaned on its size and physicality, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and leading 44-29 on the glass overall.

Harvard’s Bryce Aiken was the most dominant player on the floor, pouring in 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting.

Dec. 1: Maryland 84, Marquette 63

No slow start here — just a dominant performance that more than vindicates the Terps’ top-five ranking.

Maryland started the game with its crunch-time five and played with a different intensity from the opening tip. With the score tied at 11, the Terps pulled ahead with a 12-0 run in the first half and never looked back from there. They led, 42-21, at halftime, dominating in all phases of the game. Marquette made things tougher in the second half but never got closer than 12, and the Terps got some extra exclamation points late.

Markus Howard, who scored 40 and 51 points in Marquette’s first two games of this tournament, was absolutely stifled by Morsell and Wiggins. He shot 1-of-12 from the floor and 0-of-6 from three en route to a six-point dud. The Golden Eagles leaned instead on Brendan Bailey (27 points on 10-of-16 shooting) and Sacar Anim (21 points, 9-of-14), but managed just 39 percent shooting as a team.

Cowan led the Terps once again, tallying 22 points, six rebounds and four assists en route to a tournament MVP honor. Morsell notched 17 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. Wiggins added 15 points and six boards. Ayala and Smith chipped in nine and eight points, respectively, while Scott scored seven off the bench.

Here are four things we learned from the three games:

Maryland shortened the rotation when it had to.

Maryland’s depth was on full display in its first five contests, as the Terps frequently trotted out 11 players against mid-major competition. When times got tough in Orlando, though, it was clear who Turgeon trusted the most.

In the second half against Temple Nov. 28, only seven Terps played significant minutes. Anthony Cowan Jr. played the entire period, while Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins rarely left the floor. Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Donta Scott and Makhi Mitchell rounded out the rotation, with Ricky Lindo making a 70-second appearance. This sort of crunch-time rotation probably won’t look the same all year, but that’s what it looks like right now.

The rotation was even shorter against Harvard Nov. 29, as the top five (Cowan, Ayala, Wiggins, Morsell and Smith) played 87 of a possible 100 minutes — including the final 7:49 — and scored all 49 points in the second half. Scott pitched in for seven minutes and Makhi Mitchell played three, but most notably, Turgeon sent walk-on Reese Mona into the contest for a three-minute stretch seeking a spark. He recorded a trillion (no stats) in that time, but Maryland was a crucial plus-6 in his time on the court.

There wasn’t as much experimentation against Marquette Dec. 1. The crunch-time five became the starting five. Just four players — Scott, Hakim Hart and the Mitchells — came off the bench, combining for 36 minutes. Ricky Lindo and Serrel Smith Jr. recorded their first DNPs of the season.

Anthony Cowan Jr. carried the offense.

Cowan was Maryland’s top scorer in each of the previous two seasons, but he had never scored more than 27 in a game until his 30-point outburst against Temple. His 11-of-19 shooting against the Owls was by far his most efficient mark this season, and he went 4-of-8 from three and 4-of-5 from the foul line for good measure. He followed with outputs of 20 and 22 points, and he finished the weekend shooting 51.1 percent from the field.

It was a weekend filled with scoring point guards — including Marquette’s Markus Howard, Harvard’s Aiken and Temple’s Alani Moore II — but only Cowan was a star in all three of his outings. Of his 72 points (24 per game), 46 came in second halves. He’s the reason Maryland took home the hardware. And if he can maintain this level of play, the Terps’ ceiling is as high as any team’s.

Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell were factors on both ends of the floor.

Wiggins still hasn’t gotten his shots to fall with consistency — he went 11-of-32 from the floor during the weekend and is still shooting just 35.7 percent for the season. Morsell, meanwhile, has been incredibly boom-or-bust on offense, with four outings of at least 13 points and four with four points or fewer. But both players have impacted games in other ways. Wiggins is averaging 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, while Morsell grabbed 10 and 12 boards in the tournament’s final two contests.

Turgeon sent these two wings at Howard, who entered the game Dec. 1 as the nation’s leading scorer. They answered the call, keeping the ball out of his hands and contesting every shot. The results speak for themselves — Howard entered the half with two points and finished with six on 1-of-12 shooting. And for good measure, Morsell notched 17 points while Wiggins added 15 on the offensive end.

Expect another climb in the rankings.

If only by virtue of not losing to mid-majors, Maryland moved from No. 7 in the preseason AP poll to No. 5 this past week. Turgeon maintained even after double-digit victories that his team hadn’t done anything to deserve its ranking. That changed with the win against Marquette. Now the Terps are 8-0 for the first time since 2006-07. The Marquette victory was their sixth by double-digits, and it moved them from 17th in KenPom all the way to No. 9.

Two of the four teams ranked ahead of Maryland lost last week — Duke to Stephen F. Austin (!!!) and Michigan State to Virginia Tech — leaving Louisville and Kansas as the likely Nos. 1 and 2. There’s a chance Michigan jumps from unranked all the way into the top five after winning the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis in convincing fashion, but Maryland probably did enough to stay ahead of the Wolverines. It’d be a stunner to see No. 7 Virginia or No. 10 Ohio State jump the Terps as well.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Thomas Kendziora

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