Maryland basketball is 4-0, but didn’t arrive at that record without drama. The Terps trailed Hofstra 37-31 at halftime before rallying in the second half en route to an 80-69 win. Six Terps scored in double figures, but the rest of the team was hardly used.
Bruno Fernando didn’t start, but he took control of the game.
The sophomore center was not in the starting lineup Friday, as senior Ivan Bender took his place at center before Fernando checked in after three and a half minutes.
“I’m about teaching life lessons, and I’m just going to leave it at that,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s about more than winning to me. It’s my job.” Maryland didn’t make Fernando available after the game.
Fernando quickly asserted himself upon entering, scoring six points in the first half, but he picked up two fouls and sat out the final 8:40 of the period. When he returned to the floor to start the second half, though, he never came out again. Fernando played all 20 second-half minutes after seeing just 6:48 of game action in the first half. The results spoke for themselves: Fernando tallied 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists after halftime, and Maryland turned a six-point deficit into an 11-point win.
The 6’10 Angolan went 8-for-8 on dunks and layups, leading the Terps with 17 points in the game. It’s his second straight 17-point outing, and he’s now 24-of-29 from the floor this season.
“I don’t know if there’s a player in the country that’s improved as much from this time last year, to this time this year, as Bruno Fernando,” Turgeon said. “He’s dominant, handled the double team great, his energy, his talking, his leadership has been amazing.”
The rest of the top six found a rhythm.
This group separated itself from the rest of the pack well before the season, and the divide was as clear as it’s been on Friday. All six of Maryland’s best players scored in double figures. Eric Ayala, who was held scoreless Monday against North Carolina A&T, was second on the squad with 14 points; after entering Friday’s game 0-for-5 on threes this year, the freshman went 3-for-5.
“Eric’s a winner. When we need him to make plays, he makes them. He did that tonight,” Turgeon said.
Fellow rookie Aaron Wiggins chipped in 13 points, knocking down three triples himself. Sophomore Darryl Morsell looked like his old self from three, which isn’t a good thing, but tallied 12 points and six rebounds. Anthony Cowan Jr. shot just 5-of-13 (1-of-6 from three), but finished with 11 points, six boards, four assists and four steals. Jalen Smith started hot but cooled off down the stretch, closing the night with 11 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.
Maryland improved in nearly every realm after halftime. The Terps shot 20-of-32 from the floor (62.5 percent) and 5-of-13 from deep (38.5 percent), while outrebounding Hofstra 22-9 and trimming their eight first-half turnovers to three. The players attribute the turnaround to energy and toughness.
“In the first half, we were not getting on the ball for loose balls, missing box-outs, and we made an emphasis to come in the second half and just play harder,” Ayala said. “It wasn’t any X’s and O’s type thing, but Coach wanted us to be more tough, and we see that in ourselves. We just need to play tough.”
But as is always the flip side when a small group gets so much run...
The bench was as quiet as it’s been all season.
Bender started in place of Fernando but only played 6:57 in the game. Serrel Smith Jr. saw the floor for 7:33, Ricky Lindo played 4:12 and Reese Mona made an appearance for 58 seconds. That foursome combined for just two points—coming from Bender to make it 4-2 in the opening minutes—and other than Lindo’s 78 seconds of second-half action, Maryland’s top six played every minute of the second half.
“The guys that started the second half were playing really well. I thought they kind of got into a groove,” Turgeon said. “We’re young and we’ve got to build confidence within our group and I think we did that tonight. They get it. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to do that the next game. We had to do it tonight.”
Ironically enough, Turgeon called his team “deep” later in his press conference, citing Lindo’s physicality in his lone second-half minute and pointing out that Maryland led 9-2 when Bender checked out for the first time.
That perceived depth will have to become reality sooner rather than later. Maryland plays its second game in three days Sunday against Mount St. Mary’s, and the schedule gets much tougher after Thanksgiving. But at least so far, the Terps have come out of every test unscathed.