Maryland freshman Ivan Bender joined the team halfway through last season, but he didn't play in a game due to a myriad of problems. The team's forward depth and Bender's general unfamiliarity with the team, not to mention his continued rehabbing from an ACL tear, prevented him from seeing the floor at all.
Bender was relegated to the bench once again this year after he was ruled ineligible for the first six games of this season. His wait ended Friday night.
Leading 83-53 with 3:52 left against St. Francis, Mark Turgeon introduced Bender to College Park. His first steps onto the court went generally unnoticed, as the PA announcer missed the substitution. He only mentioned Varun Ram and Damonte Dodd's re-entries, but after a stellar performance in this brief appearance, Bender may never get overlooked again.
Bender tallied 5 points and 6 rebounds in his brief appearance, nailing three of four free throw attempts and slamming home an emphatic closing dunk.
"For his first time on the floor I thought he acted really mature," said Turgeon. "He showed great poise. Six rebounds in 4 minutes, that's 60 rebounds in a 40 minute game."
The eye-opening performance is sure to stick in the back of Turgeon's mind as the season wears on, and Bender's teammates (including fellow european big man Michal Cekovsky) seemed thrilled to see him get on the highlight reel the first time he saw the court.
"Ivan was amazing," said teammate Robert Carter. "You've got to imagine how tough it is on coach to watch that tonight. Six rebounds in 4 minutes and think that you can't give him too many minutes. Coach is already trying to shuffle around four big guys."
Maryland is poised to lose as many as three of its frontcourt players to the 2016 NBA Draft, so Bender will be in a much better position to get playing time next season. This brief stint should be enough to have Maryland fans optimistic about what he can bring to the team in the future.