Maryland men’s basketball survived its first Big Ten battle Saturday, holding on to beat Penn State, 66-59. The win was delivered off the hands of Anthony Cowan Jr. in the final minutes, and from a six-man collective throughout the game’s entirety.
The Terps got 57 of their 66 points from their starting five, and the final nine came off the bench from sixth man Aaron Wiggins. Not only did no other Maryland player score, no one else even took a shot attempt. Head coach Mark Turgeon’s top six played 186 of 200 possible minutes in the game. Against Virginia on Wednesday, it played 188.
“It is what it is,” Turgeon said after the game. “We have to become a deeper team, obviously, for us to be successful in league play. ... We wanted to win the game, that’s what’s important. Our locker room is really happy right now. We coached to win the game today, but I have to figure it out.”
There’s good and bad buried in the top-heavy production. The good: Bruno Fernando notched his third straight double-double, Jalen Smith had maybe the best game of his young career and Cowan daggered home two three-pointers in the game’s final minutes. Fernando and Smith were also able to play extended minutes together, playing off each other in the high and low post. Two promising moments saw Smith nail his second three of the season on one possession, and slam home a dunk on another after Fernando drew a double team on the opposite block.
Fernando finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and a block in a career-high 36 minutes, while Smith added 16 points, eight boards and a steal—all while guarding Nittany Lions top scorer Lamar Stevens—in a career-high 34 minutes. If the frontcourt doesn’t get deeper as Big Ten play goes on, Turgeon could end up running the risks of having his two bigs play almost as much as Cowan had to last season.
“We have the same amount of confidence in everybody on our bench, 1-15, we trust each other the same way,” Fernando said. “Obviously, it’s important for us to get out of the game sometimes to get a breather, but in situations like that it’s always better for us to stay the way we stay in games.”
Which leads us to the bad: the Terps struggled to get any real separation from the Nittany Lions and looked gassed by the end of the game. Outside of Wiggins, only Serrel Smith Jr., Ricky Lindo and Ivan Bender saw action off the bench against Penn State. Smith Jr. played eight minutes, grabbed a rebound and finished with a plus/minus of minus-7. Lindo played a little under four minutes and went minus-15 with no recorded stats, while Bender played just 47 seconds.
Of that trio of bench players, Smith Jr. and Lindo have looked like the most likely contributors for the Terps early in the season. Smith Jr. has flashed some playmaking off the pine, while Lindo had some aggressive moments in the season’s first few games. Bender has played sparingly for floor-spacing reasons, but no one has become a consistent second option to Wiggins off the bench. It’s allowed Wiggins to flourish as a sixth man, but has kept Maryland from consistent scoring outbursts like its 104-67 win at Marshall.
“I don’t want to [use youth as an] excuse because we did it against Marshall,” Cowan said. “We just have to lock in a bit more, obviously cut down the turnovers. It’s still a very young season, so I think we can just get a lot better with that and then we can be a really good team.”
The Terps will leave the state of Maryland for the first time on Thursday, heading to Indiana for a road conference game against Purdue.