COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Maryland men's basketball team rang in 2019 in dramatic fashion, defeating No. 24 Nebraska, 74-72, Jan. 2. In a thrilling back-and-forth affair that featured 11 lead changes, the Terps held on to defeat their first ranked opponent since 2016.
The Terps are now 11-3 and 2-1 in the conference. They'll play their second Big Ten road game of the season Jan. 5 when they travel to play Rutgers.
Here are five impressions from the game:
1. Freshman forward Jalen Smith bounced back from a difficult first half to be the hero.
After a tough first half for Smith in which head coach Mark Turgeon played him just nine minutes, the star big man responded with a monster second half.
Thirty seconds into the second half, he opened the Terps' scoring with a dunk. About midway through, he gave Maryland the lead 54-53 with his second 3-pointer of the game.
After missing the Radford game due to illness, Smith said it took some time get comfortable again and shake off some nerves.
"I think it was the nerves of Big Ten play -- not to say that the other games didn't count -- but now these games really, really count," he said.
Down the stretch, Smith got hot, hitting his final four shots, including a breakaway dunk and a putback off a missed 3-pointer by junior guard Anthony Cowan with 28 seconds to play.
And with 3.8 seconds remaining and the score tied at 72, Smith caught the ball at the top of the key, took a dribble and hit a teardrop floater that would have made Chris Paul proud.
"It was big time for us, we need a lot more of that from him," sophomore center Bruno Fernando said. "Like that big time shot that he made at the end we need more of that to see him doing that it was good for us."
Smith finished with 15 points -- 12 in the second half -- on 6-of-10 shooting (2-of-3 on 3-pointers).
"He wasn't very good, was he?" Turgeon said of Smith's first-half performance after the game. "I was chewing on him; the assistants were chewing on him and he responded."
"We need Stix to play like that. When he plays like that, we are a much better team."
2. Bruno Fernando showed he is becoming a leader.
Countless times throughout a game, Fernando can be seen screaming with plenty of emotion at the end of a play. It has quickly become his signature move during his two seasons as a Terp. But several times against Nebraska, Fernando could be seen gathering his teammates in a huddle and speaking calmly, giving instructions in a more measured tone than his usual roars.
Fernando's leadership in practice is now starting to manifest itself in games, Turgeon said.
"He's grown up. I'm really proud of him," Turgeon said.
Fernando finished with 18 points and a career-high 17 rebounds, his third straight game with a double-double and seventh of the season.
The team was confident they could win a close game against a tough opponent, Fernando said.
"We had to stay focused," he said. "I think the last 10 minutes we played was the best defensive game we played. We were connected on defense, talking to each other and we did everything right."
Nebraska did its best to frustrate the sophomore big man throughout the game, switching between one-on-one and zone matchups and double teams.
"We know he's a dominant player," Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said after the game. "He's so much stronger -- if you watch last year's game. I think that's the biggest thing I see is just his physicality."
Nebraska's strategy did seem to work on Fernando at times, who turned the ball over four times in the first half and six overall.
3. This team is slowly but surely getting deeper.
Turgeon went to his bench early, subbing out Smith for freshman forward Ricky Lindo Jr. before the under-16 timeout. For the next five minutes, Lindo made an immediate impact, grabbing three rebounds and blocking Nebraska senior guard James Palmer Jr.'s shot into the stands.
Lindo and freshmen guards Serrel Smith Jr. and Aaron Wiggins each ended up playing 16 or more minutes, helping solidify a bench that at times has been unreliable this season.
Wiggins continued his hot shooting for a second straight game, hitting a 3-pointer during each half and finishing with eight points. He's now 5-of-6 from deep during his last two games, providing much-needed scoring off the bench.
Though Lindo didn't stuff the stat sheet as he did against Radford Dec. 29 (8 points, 10 rebounds), the freshman played well for a second straight game. He finished with four rebounds and a block.
"We're getting deeper," Turgeon said. "We're growing up right before your eyes."
4. Anthony Cowan left his poor shooting in 2018.
After a difficult 2-for-9 shooting performance against Radford, Cowan got the new year started with a bang, hitting three clutch 3-pointers in the second half. Each of those shots either tied the game or extended a lead for Maryland, which went on multiple scoring runs but couldn't put away an experienced Huskers team.
Three Nebraska seniors -- Palmer, Isaac Copeland Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. -- shot a combined 7-of-16 from deep, but they couldn't overcome Cowan's team-high 19 points and four assists, also a team best.
"Anthony hit some big shots for us. He really played well," Turgeon said.
This was Cowan's best offensive performance since he poured in 23 points against Loyola University (Maryland) Dec. 11.
5. This team is still making mistakes late in games, but Turgeon preached patience.
Late in the game, the Cornhuskers erased a four-point deficit with a pair of made free throws and a layup with 4:17 to play. On the next two Terps possessions, freshman guard Eric Ayala and Fernando each turned the ball over, giving the Nebraska extra possessions in a tight game.
Palmer, who shot 4-of-10 from deep, missed two 3-pointers that came from those miscues, but those shots could have easily gone in, which would have spelled disaster for a Maryland team that played efficient basketball for most of the game.
Ayala turned the ball over again at the 2:12 mark, which led to a Palmer dunk and 71-70 deficit, but thanks to Jalen Smith's stellar play to the end the game, the error could be forgiven.
These types of mistakes have plagued this young Maryland team at times this season, Turgeon said, "but in the end, we were able to overcome it."
Despite racking up 13 turnovers on the night, Turgeon was sure to mention that the Terps have the fifth youngest roster in the country and wins like this are difficult to come by.
"It's all about winning. It's great to see," he said. "I keep telling you it's a fun team to coach. We're going to enjoy this. It's hard to win."
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Photo Credit: Kenya Allen PressBox