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3-point shots: Observations and opinions from Maryland's win over Gardner-Webb

A year ago, Gardner-Webb upset Nebraska in Lincoln.

A month ago, the Runnin’ Bulldogs played then-No. 13 Miami close for a half before getting blown out in Coral Gables, Fla.

Both those games must have crossed Maryland coach Mark Turgeon’s mind going into Saturday’s matchup at Xfinity Center.

Neither factored into what became a rather routine victory for the Terps. The way things have gone recently for Maryland, it might even be viewed as progress.

Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland’s 82-60 win:

1. Seeing Bruno Fernando without a boot on his right foot is a good sign for the Terps.

Considering the injuries of Maryland big men the past few seasons, it was certainly a positive sign to see the freshman center wearing his sneakers and taking free throws during warmups.

Though Fernando was clearly limping as he trotted on and off the floor, Turgeon said after the game that the 6-foot-10 Angolan was doing better than he was Friday after spraining the ankle Thursday against Ohio.

Fernando will likely sit out Tuesday’s game against Division III Catholic, and possibly the two other remaining nonconference games against Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 21 and UMBC on Dec. 29.

The important competition for Fernando will likely be at practice either right before or right after the Terps’ break for Christmas, prior to the next Big Ten game on Jan. 2 against Penn State.

Given that he sustained a more serious left ankle sprain in preseason practice, Fernando’s ankles could be something of a problem that the Terps will have to monitor closely the remainder of the season.

2. If the Terps can clean up their turnover problems, they have a chance to be a pretty good offensive team.

On a day that Maryland made just 11 turnovers — including only one in the first 13 minutes of the game — the Terps shot 54.5 percent from the field (30-for-55) and 50 percent on 3-pointers (10-for-20).

Shooting 50 percent for the season from the field, Maryland leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage. The Terps are now up to a respectable 39 percent on 3-pointers (96-for-246), second behind only Purdue.

One area where Turgeon’s team keeps improving is its assist totals. The Terps had 21 on Saturday, meaning they assisted on more than two-thirds of their baskets.

This continues a trend that began after losing to St. Bonaventure in the opening round of the Emerald Coast Classic last month in Niceville, Fla., when they had a season-low 11 assists in a 63-61 defeat.

In their past six games, the Terps have 101 assists on 166 baskets (60.8 percent) compared to just 80 of 160 their first six games. Included in the recent streak was a remarkable 22 assists in 23 baskets in a loss at Syracuse.

Maryland is still a bit erratic in its 3-point shooting — the Terps were just 9-for-26 against Ohio and 10-for-28 in its recent loss to Purdue — and will have to become more consistent in that area for the offensive improvement to continue.

It still comes down to turnovers. If the Terps can continue to improve on Saturday’s performance, in which Maryland was sloppy in only a couple of short spurts to finish with 11 turnovers, it will certainly help once Big Ten play restarts next month.

3. Small steps for Wiley and Nickens.

At some point this season, the Terps are going to need their two most experienced perimeter players, redshirt junior Dion Wiley and senior Jared Nickens, to make big shots in Big Ten games.

Wiley is one of the X-factors this season because nobody really knows what the 6-4 guard is capable of doing after playing sporadically his freshman year and then battling injuries the past two years.

Known mostly as a streaky shooter, Wiley has shown some signs of becoming a more well-rounded player, as evidenced by what he did Saturday when he had eight points, five rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 25 minutes.

Nickens has a similar reputation, but the 6-7 wing needs to do more than just hit 3-point shots. After going scoreless in just six minutes Thursday, including a couple in garbage time with walk-ons, Nickens had six points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal in 21 minutes Saturday.

To his credit, Nickens had the highest plus-minus of any Maryland player against Gardner-Webb, a plus-22. Given that he is often on the negative side of that equation since he is not known for his defense, that is a something to build upon.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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