COLLEGE PARK – Before University of Maryland center Chol Marial checked into the game against Bryant University (8-5) on Dec. 29, his teammate Aaron Wiggins patted him on the back and spoke the words that Marial had been waiting to hear for months.
“Let’s go,” Wiggins told Marial. “It’s time.”
The freshman from South Sudan was making his Maryland debut after undergoing surgery back in September to repair stress fractures in both of his legs.
The fans at the Xfinity Center welcomed Marial with a standing ovation and loud cheers, cheers that only intensified when Marial knocked the ball out of the air for a tremendous block over Bryant forward Hall Elisias.
The Xfinity Center exploded with gleeful shouts again when Marial grabbed a pass from Darryl Morsell and launched his 7-foot-2 frame into the air for an emphatic dunk.
Maryland went on to beat its last non-conference opponent by a score of 84-70 after losing two games in a row. Still, Marial’s performance and his positivity in the face of adversity were all the 11-2 Terps could talk about after the game.
Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. did not perform well in both of Maryland’s losses against Penn State and Seton Hall. However, Cowan redeemed himself against Bryant with 19 points, four assists and zero turnovers. While Maryland Head Coach Mark Turgeon lauded Cowan for his burgeoning leadership skills, Cowan praised his roommate Marial.
“He’s such a positive dude. Throughout his whole surgery, me and him got to be around each other a lot,” said Cowan. “I’m happy for him. He was able to come out and really produce on defense and on offense. He did what we needed him to do.”
Marial’s optimistic attitude provided the spark the Terps have been searching for since their last win back on Dec. 7. The victory against Bryant came two days after brothers and former Maryland players Makhi Mitchell and Makhel Mitchell announced they were leaving the program and entering the NCAA transfer portal.
Turgeon did not comment on the departure of the Mitchell brothers and chose instead to focus on his team’s performance against the Bulldogs.
“Once we figured out offensively how to play, we were good. We shot the ball better, we were 7-for-14 for 3, and we were a dominant rebounding team, which we knew we had to be,” said Turgeon. “Just the turnovers we had to do a better job with, but a lot of that has to do with defenses.”
The Terps committed a few turnovers early in the first half, mostly on errant passes that the Bulldogs intercepted. Bryant’s defense started strong, but foul trouble soon reared its head, and Head Coach Jared Grasso had to pull some of his players. By the end of the game, Bryant’s five starters combined for 17 fouls; two players were penalized four times apiece, and one player fouled out.
Maryland started to pull away after halftime despite Bryant guard Adam Grant’s five 3-point baskets in the second half. Cowan delivered eight points at the free-throw line and added a trey for good measure.
Meanwhile, Wiggins contributed 15 points and nine rebounds, while forward Jalen Smith registered a double-double with 10 rebounds and 11 points. However, it was Marial’s six points and five rebounds that garnered the loudest reaction from both the fans and the players on the bench.
“I was ready for it. I’ve been working for it for two months now,” said Marial. “I didn’t have anything to worry about. I know I have a lot of good people around me, so I didn’t have to worry about anything. To have guys like Jalen and Anthony is a big help.”
“I had that confidence in him that he can come out, and he could help us out a lot,” said Cowan. “This was a good start for him.”
The matchup against the Bulldogs was the first of a streak of three consecutive home games. Next up, the Terps have back to back dates with conference opponents: Indiana University on Jan. 4 and Ohio State University on Jan. 7.