Despite a smaller turnout than usual in the Xfinity Center, the Maryland crowd of 15,587 was a little louder than usual with former Terrapins Melo Trimble and Jake Layman being honored throughout the night.
At the start of the second half, thousands of eyes looked upward as a highlight reel of Trimble and Layman played on the big screen and the duo smiled and waved to a standing ovation.
But on the floor, another rising star was stealing the spotlight from the two Maryland legends.
Freshman Bruno Fernando led all scorers with 18 points and 16 rebounds, helping Maryland cruise to a 61-51 win over Rutgers.
“We couldn’t do anything with Fernando,” said Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. “He was a monster.”
Maryland (18-11, 7-9) quickly jumped out to a double-digit lead with a 10-0 run four minutes into the game and kept that lead for the entire game. Fernando put his stamp on the game early with a dunk that put the Terps up by 12, causing the crowd to erupt with applause.
“We drew that up, but it was the first time it’s worked all year,” said Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon.
The pass that set up the dunk came from fellow freshman Darryl Morsell, who said “it was all him [Fernando]. I just put it in the right place and I knew he was going to finish it.”
Fernando shot 89 percent from the field, making 8-of-9 shots. The game was also Fernando’s second straight leading the Terps in points and rebounds. The 6-foot-10 big man also recorded his first career 3-pointer in the second half, extending Maryland’s lead to 19.
“It would open up a lot for everybody else,” Morsell said if Fernando started shooting 3-pointers consistently. “I think that’s going to make us a more lethal threat on offense.”
A little later, Fernando said shooting a 3-pointer was a “once in a lifetime experience.”
“From now on, I’m going to be…thinking about it 10 times [each game],” he said.
While Maryland’s woes away from home continue to be a hindrance, the team remains dominant in the Xfinity Center. The Terps improved to 15-2 at home, accounting for 83 percent of the team’s wins.
Sophomores Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter finished with 25 points combined. Cowan, who was held to just seven points against Nebraska, shot 50 percent and had six assists.
Defensively, Maryland held Rutgers (13-16, 3-13) to 38 percent from the field, but also allowed only one of Rutgers’ players to finish in double figures. Forward Eugene Omoruyi led the Scarlet Knights with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting.
Maryland also held Rutgers’ primary scorers, freshman guard Geo Baker, junior guard Corey Sanders and senior forward Deshawn Freeman, to just 19 combined points.
For Cowan, who spent the majority of the game guarding Sanders, the priority was making Sanders take tough shots.
“Just being him to the spot,” Cowan said of Sanders, who finished with six points. “Make him take shots over a hand. He’s a really good player, so that’s what you have to focus on.”
Despite a slight Rutgers surge midway through the first half, Maryland maintained a steady lead against the Scarlet Knights. Huerter added a pair of free throws at the end of the half to give Maryland a 31-19 halftime advantage.
The Terps sustained that 20-point lead for the majority of the rest of the game. After Fernando’s three with less than eight minutes left to play, Rutgers hit a 10-0 run that brought the team back 55-46.
But any hopes at a comeback from Rutgers’ bench were extinguished in the final four minutes, as Maryland held the team to just five points for the rest of the game.
Maryland will have one final game on the road against Northwestern before the start of the Big Ten tournament in New York City on Feb. 28. Maryland handled the Wildcats at home on Feb. 10; however, Northwestern is as good as Maryland in Rosemont, Illinois, with a 12-3 home record.
“Thankfully, we just played them [Northwestern],” Turgeon said. “It will be a quick turnaround, but it’ll be a lot less preparation. For us…it’s just mentally getting us right. It’ll be a big game for us.”
Maryland’s game against Northwestern will be Feb. 19 with a 7 p.m. tipoff.
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