In the final non-conference game of the season, the Maryland men’s basketball team were desperate for a victory against Radford of the Big South Conference after losing, 78-74, to Seton Hall Dec. 22, which was its last chance at a quality non-conference win.
Their desperation proved fruitful overcoming a slow start to pull away from a pesky Radford team that made the NCAA Tournament in March. The Terps didn’t take their first lead until about three minutes remaining in the first half, but they didn’t look back, cruising to a 78-64 victory, earning their tenth win of the season as Big Ten conference play looms in the new year.
Here are five quick impressions of the game:
1. No Stix, no problem
A few minutes before tipoff, it was announced that Maryland star freshman forward Jalen “Stix” Smith would miss the game with a stomach bug. In 12 games, the former Mount Saint Joseph High School standout has averaged 11.9 points on 51.9 percent shooting and seven rebounds. His absence could have been problematic for the Terps who are thin in the frontcourt to begin with.
But the big man’s absence proved to be inconsequential. Sophomore center Bruno Fernando was the Terps’ go-to option in the paint, piling up 19 points and 12 boards, his seventh double-double of the season, to go with three assists and a block.
Senior center Ivan Bender, who averaged 12 minutes per game a season ago, made a necessary appearance to help protect the rim as well. And though his stat line -- 2 points, 2 assists and 2 rebounds -- doesn’t jump off the page, his presence was much needed with Smith under the weather. He showed off a deft passing touch, flicking the ball at the top of the key to freshman forward Ricky Lindo Jr. for an easy layup.
2. Ricky Lindo big off the bench
Mark Turgeon has rarely reached deep into his bench thus far this season, but with Smith out, redshirt sophomore forward Joshua Tomaic was tapped to make his second career start. Turgeon appeared to renege on that decision almost immediately as Tomaic provided little from the start, and was quickly subbed out for Lindo.
That decision proved fruitful as Lindo just missed out on a double-double with a career-high eight points to go with 10 rebounds -- four of which were offensive boards. Defensively he made his presence known as well with two blocks.
3. Steady guard play
While Fernando did the dirty work down low, the Terp trio of junior Anthony Cowan Jr., sophomore Darryl Morsell and freshman Eric Ayala provided a steadying presence in the backcourt, combining for 37 of Maryland’s 78 points. Cowan, who had another cold shooting night (2-of-9 FG, 1-of-5 from 3-point range) finished with a team-high five assists despite Turgeon moving the junior off the ball for the third straight game, allowing Ayala to take over as the main ball-handler.
Morsell led the team in scoring at halftime with 9 points, and though he cooled off in the second half, he finished with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting, scoring several key buckets to keep the Terps’ offense running.
Ayala looked comfortable on the ball all game. During a scoreless streak in the first half, Ayala drove into the lane and completed a nice spin and left-handed finish to cut the Terps’ defense to seven, 19-12.
4. Overcoming a cold start and a hot opponent
The Terps were legitimately bad at times in the first half, playing flat on defense and allowing Radford’s guards -- Carlik Jones and Travis Fields Jr. -- to go wherever they wanted on the floor.
The Highlanders started hot, making eight of their first nine shots including their first three 3-pointers, taking a 19-10 lead in the first half. During Radford’s hot streak, the Terps were forced into four turnovers, one of which came on a 10-second call after the Highlanders implemented a full-court press after a timeout. After the Terps broke the press in two passes on the next trip up the floor, Radford coach Mike Jones didn’t break it out again for the remainder of the game.
Radford’s hot shooting did not last, however, finishing below 40 percent for the game and scoring just 45 points in the final 34 minutes of play. They did live up to their reputation as a strong 3-point shooting team (13th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage), hitting 8-of-19 from beyond the arc.
As the Terps enter the remainder of their conference play, they may not see another backcourt pair as talented as Fields and Jones. The pair scored a combined 42 points. Jones had eight assists and five rebounds, and Fields Jr. was a nuisance on defense all night with three steals.
5. Limiting turnovers, making free throws
The Terps were crippled by endless turnovers (20) and missed free throws (8) in their loss to Seton Hall Dec. 22. What a difference a week makes.
Other than four meaningless turnovers in the late stages after the game was easily in hand, which ballooned the final turnover count to 14, Maryland handled the ball well for long stretches, buoyed by Ayala’s steady play. Fields picked off several lazy passes, but it’s clear Turgeon focused on ball security during the weeklong break.
The Terps finished 21-for-25 from the stripe -- Morsell, Ayala and Cowan didn’t miss a single freebie -- providing much-needed consistency after missing eight free throws in a four-point loss versus Seton Hall.
The Terps return to the court in 2019 when they face Nebraska in College Park, Md., Jan. 2.