With a little under 13 minutes remaining in the second half, Aaron Wiggins tossed the basketball inside to Bruno Fernando on the block. Jalen Smith stood opposite of Fernando on the other side of the basket and Smith’s defender moved away from him to rotate to the sophomore forward.
Fernando, at 6-feet-10, was able to see over the incoming double team and pass to Smith underneath the basket, who slammed home an undefended two-handed dunk.
The possession was just one example of a dominant evening for the two Maryland big men, who combined for 28 points and 21 rebounds in the Terrapins’ 66-59 win over Penn State in the teams’ Big Ten conference opener.
After playing 27 minutes and spending extended amounts of time on the bench in Maryland’s 76-71 loss to No. 4 Virginia Wednesday night, Smith played 33 minutes against Penn State, recording a team-high 16 points.
The Baltimore native also drew the challenge of guarding forward Lamar Stevens, who entered the game averaging a team-high 23 points for the Nittany Lions. Stevens finished the game with 19 points on 9-of-24 shooting.
“Jalen Smith defensively had his best game since he’s been here,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. “His length was terrific.”
The duo of Fernando and Smith has been a successful one so far. Against Penn State, Fernando and Smith recorded a +/- of nine and 18, respectively. The two give Maryland a sizable rebounding advantage and have frequently demanded double teams in the post. Maryland played with Fernando and four guards for long stretches of the Virginia game, but it’s more likely that Fernando and Smith play together as Maryland continues conference play against bigger competition.
“I think it was just me forgetting last game,” Smith said of his bounce-back effort, “because that did put a toll on me with how I played last game. I didn’t think I played that well, so I just went into this game forgetting what happened in the past and kept playing.
“Bruno and I have good chemistry. We have been either playing against each other or playing with each other sometimes. Just knowing where he’s at, and he knows where I am at, it just helps us out with spacing on the court.”
Cowan overcomes turnovers with late-game heroics
Junior guard Anthony Cowan had an up-and-down game, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting but also committing six of Maryland’s 17 turnovers. However, Cowan was Maryland’s go-to scorer late in the game as the team pulled away from Penn State.
After missing his first four attempts from beyond the arc, Cowan made two 3-pointers in the last four minutes of the game. The second came as the shot clock was winding down and gave the Terrapins a five-point lead with 34 seconds remaining.
“That’s what a great player does,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said of Cowan. “We knew he was a great player and tried to get the ball out of his hands, but he was very crafty and made some big shots.”
Maryland has seen its most success playing through Fernando and Smith. But as the season continues and the team plays tougher competition, plays like the one Cowan made will be necessary to win close games like the Terrapins did against Penn State.
“I just wanted to make sure we win as a team,” Cowan said. “I just wasn’t making the best decisions with the ball. But when it came down to it, I just wanted to make sure I made shots to give our team the best chance to win the game.”
Maryland’s rotation still a work in progress
In Maryland’s first eight games of the season, Turgeon has relied heavily on his starters. Outside of the standard starting five, Turgeon has typically only brought four reserves off the bench, with Wiggins being the only one to log significant minutes.
Freshmen Serrel Smith Jr. and Ricky Lindo Jr. combined to play 12 minutes and senior forward Ivan Bender was on the court for all of 47 seconds.
Following the game, Turgeon said he’s still figuring out the rotation as the team heads into its first road conference game at No. 19 Purdue on Thursday. Turgeon specifically mentioned incorporating Smith Jr. and deciding on another big man in the rotation as his two main issues.
“We coached to win the game today, but I’ve got to figure it out,” Turgeon said. “Got to get Serrel because Serrel’s a good player, and I’ve got to figure out our backup post, what I’m going to do there if it’s not small. I’ve got until Thursday to figure it out.”
Turgeon reflects on death of George H.W. Bush
41st U.S. President George H.W. Bush died Friday night. He was 94. Turgeon opened up his postgame comments by sharing an anecdote about the time he and his son met Bush while Turgeon was head coach at Texas A&M.
“He just had a big influence on me,” Turgeon said. “One, he made me feel like I was the past president and he was the basketball coach at Texas A&M. He was a good role model in how much he loved his wife, Barbara, and his family and how much he loved our country.
“We lost a great man … our country lost a great man. Hopefully we can all be a little bit more like him … a servant to the country and do what’s best and continue to be good husbands, good fathers and everything else.”