The Maryland men's basketball team lost at Nebraska, 70-66, Feb. 13. The Terps fell to 17-11 overall and 6-9 in the Big Ten. Here are four observations on the loss:
1. Maryland's four-point loss was all too familiar.
The Terps fell to 1-7 on the road during Big Ten play, with their last five losses coming by a combined 20 points. Those five losses came at Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Nebraska; a win against any of those teams would have altered Maryland's NCAA Tournament chances. Instead, the Terps' only chance to get into the tournament may be to win the Big Ten tournament Feb. 28-March 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y.
Maryland entered the second half at Nebraska with a two-point lead, but ended up chasing the Huskers the rest of the way thanks to 24 second-half points by Nebraska junior guard James Palmer Jr. The Terps were behind by as many as seven points in the second half, but a
basket by freshman forward Bruno Fernando
cut Nebraska's lead to 64-63 with 1:40 remaining. However, like most of its contests away from Xfinity Center, Maryland simply couldn't get over the hump to take the lead late.
The Terps got the stop they needed after Fernando's bucket, after which Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon called a timeout to set up a play for Fernando. But the big man was denied the ball on a post entry and on a screen-and-roll, and the possession broke down. The Terps appeared to get another much-needed stop on the Huskers' next possession, but Nebraska sophomore forward Isaiah Roby
grabbed an offensive rebound
with 25 seconds remaining that began the Huskers' queue to the free-throw line.
2. Fernando was the best player on the court for Maryland.
Fernando played 30 minutes Feb. 13, with the Terps' three other available big men -- seniors Michal Cekovsky and Sean Obi and redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic -- playing a total of 11 minutes. Fernando scored 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out five assists and blocked two shots.
It was Fernando's third double-digit scoring performance in five games and his 11th of the season. Maryland's plan from the opening tip was to play through Fernando on the low block, and he took advantage of the touches by successfully challenging Nebraska junior forward Isaac Copeland and Roby, both of whom are smaller than Fernando.
Fernando had moments in which he outclassed the 6-foot-8 Roby on the block. Fernando utilized a similar spin move to his right hand multiple times, one of which
finished with a layup
another with a dunk
. He's also getting better at anticipating a double team, which he showed when he found freshman guard Darryl Morsell for a point blank look when Morsell's defender
peeled off to double him
Fernando and incoming freshman
would make for a dynamic frontcourt for the Terps next year. Fernando's NBA Draft stock will determine if that becomes a reality.
3. Redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley seems to have taken Turgeon's challenge to heart.
Turgeon challenged Wiley to be more involved after his performance at Penn State Feb. 7, during which the Oxon Hill, Md., native did little aside from make two 3-pointers.
"We went to Penn State, he played 23 minutes," Turgeon said after the Terps' win against Northwestern Feb. 10. "He had zero assists, zero turnovers and zero rebounds. I said, 'At least turn the damn ball over. Do something to get in the stat sheet, alright?' So he was more aggressive today. We need Dion to be like that. Poor kid's been hurt since he's been here, and hopefully this is the start of him and [Cekovsky] finishing this year really strong for us."
Wiley responded by playing well against Northwestern, recording 10 points, five rebounds and four assists. He followed that up with eight points and five rebounds at Nebraska, again appearing to have an increased desire to battle for rebounds in the paint and an increased willingness to put the ball on the floor.
Wiley was 2-for-3 from 3-point range against the Huskers, making him 41.3 percent from long range this year. His shooting ability has never been in question; he was recruited out of Potomac High with a reputation as a quality shooter and that's carried over to College Park, Md. Questions about Wiley have been due to injury -- this is his first healthy season since 2014-15 -- and his activity level on the court, as he can be passive on the offensive end and fall asleep on the defensive end.
Wiley's improved play might not help the Terps get into the NCAA Tournament, but it's something to build off heading into his senior year, when he'll be counted on to play like he has the past two games.
4. A phantom third foul on sophomore guard Kevin Huerter didn't help matters for Maryland Feb. 13.
Foul trouble is no mystery to the Terps when they've been on the road, as Turgeon pointed out Feb. 10 in explaining the gulf between their home and road records this year.
"We just don't have the depth this year this year on the road," Turgeon said. "We did win our road game [at Illinois Dec. 3] when we had everybody healthy, right? I think we could have a few more road wins with a full roster. I'm not making excuses. But we get in foul trouble on the road and our lack of depth catches up with us at times."
Huerter got hit with his third foul when Roby went to the hoop early in the second half, but replays showed little-or-no contact by Huerter as Roby rose to the rim. That call got Huerter out of the game, and the Huskers went on a quick 9-2 spurt after Huerter exited. Maryland was fighting uphill the rest of the way.
Huerter playing 32 minutes instead of 36 hurts the Terps considering how thin their margin for error is, particularly on the road.