Maryland-Oklahoma St. Preview
Having had time to fine-tune some things, Maryland appears confident heading into its first true road contest.
The No. 17 Terrapins expect a serious challenge Sunday against Oklahoma State, which hasn't lost a non-conference home game in almost two years.
After beating Arizona State and then-No. 13 Iowa State at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City on Nov. 24-25, Maryland (10-1) proved it can fare well against some solid competition away from home. Though those victories came on a neutral court, coach Mark Turgeon used them as a way to instill confidence in preparation for Oklahoma State (9-1) in the expected rowdy environment of Gallagher-Iba Arena.
"(Oklahoma State) is a good team, but anybody can be beaten," Maryland freshman Jared Nickens said. "We just have to go out there and play."
The Cowboys have won 13 straight non-conference home games since Dec. 31, 2012, when they lost 69-68 to then-No. 10 Gonzaga. Oklahoma State has won its six home contests this season by an average of 26.7 points but none have come against a team from a major conference.
"It's a great test to see where we are," said Cowboys coach Travis Ford, whose team's only loss came by 26 at South Carolina on Dec. 6. "It's probably going to be our toughest game to this point.
"(Maryland) can score in a lot a ways. They are very versatile. That's a dangerous team."
Paced by freshman guard Melo Trimble (15.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists per game) and forward Jake Layman (15.4 ppg), Maryland has maintained its strong start while leading scorer Dez Wells (16.2) remains out with a broken wrist suffered against Iowa State.
However, Turgeon used the extended practice time during finals week as a teaching opportunity after his team's inconsistent effort in last Saturday's 67-57 win over South Carolina-Upstate. Maryland overcame a 9-of-35 shooting performance and four-point deficit after one half to go 13 of 20 in the second to win for the third straight time since a 76-65 loss to then-No. 7 Virginia.
"We have to get better," Turgeon said. "We need to get better in a lot of areas."
Layman had a team-high 17 points and Trimble added 14 with 12 rebounds for his first double-double. The Terps also got a boost from forward Evan Smotrycz, who had 10 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes in his return from missing three straight games while dealing with an ankle issue and the effects of a broken foot that forced him to miss the first five contests.
"Until I hit that point where I am fully healthy, I'm just trying to play," said Smotrycz, who averaged 11.0 points and 6.0 boards last season.
Having the 6-foot-9 Smotrycz on the floor could help the Terps as they try to contain Cowboys swingman Le'Bryan Nash, who averages 17.7 points and 6.4 boards.
Teammate Phil Forte III is averaging 17.1 points but is 8 for 30 from the field while being held under his average twice in the last three contests.
Though none of those opponents proved to offer Maryland some high-level competition, Ford still feels the Cowboys need more than home-court advantage to prevail Sunday.
"I'm glad we're going into this 9-1," he said. "It's a great test for our team."
Maryland won 50-49 in the only other meeting with Oklahoma State on Dec. 16, 1966 in Memphis.