Having special guests in attendance at Xfinity Center has had an adverse effect on the Maryland men’s basketball team the past two seasons.
Playing against then-No. 6 Michigan State last month, Maryland blew a 13-point halftime lead with former star Greivis Vásquez trying to still work his magic as a fan.
It certainly helped having Rutgers as the opponent Saturday night, with former Terps Melo Trimble and Jake Layman in attendance to watch Maryland’s 61-51 victory.
“I thought our guys were energized because we had a lot of former players back, seven or eight,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said, jokingly calling his ex-players has-beens. “It was good to have them. I was really happy for Jake and Melo. I wish it had been a sold-out crowd, a big game. You can’t orchestrate all that stuff.”
For the first time since Turgeon has been at Maryland, he called a timeout when the two players were introduced as honorary game captains.
“Those two changed our program, and got us to where we were a top-20 team every season,” Turgeon said.
It also helped having freshman center Bruno Fernando, who is starting to show signs that he could be Maryland’s next great big man and a potential program-changer in his own right.
Fernando hit eight of his nine shots, including his first career 3-pointer in the second half, to finish with 18 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.
Turgeon said Fernando’s motivation might have also come from how hard the coaching staff has been on him lately, especially when it comes to his defense.
“The film sessions haven’t been a lot of fun for him. He locked into the defensive game plan,” Turgeon said. “He was ready to go tonight. He was locked in. It was great to see.”
Said Fernando: “I’m just getting comfortable with the team, with the plays more and trying to relax more. I just try to facilitate the game for my teammates and make plays for them because I feel like I am going to see way more double teams from now on. Try to make better decisions with the ball instead of just rush a move.”
Behind Fernando’s fast start, Maryland (18-11, 7-9 Big Ten) used 10-0 runs at the start of each half to take control of the game early and eventually build its lead to as many as 24 points with 14:39 left in the game.
Rutgers (13-16, 3-14) cut its deficit to nine with about four minutes left before the Terps finally put the Scarlet Knights away.
“We’re young, we got up 19 with 7:30 to go and and maybe I shut it off, too. I’m thinking, ‘This is how I’m going to play the last four minutes of the game,’ ” Turgeon said. “And the next 3½ wasn’t good.
“We get better every game. We’re doing some really good things out there. And Rutgers is one of those teams that never stops and they play until the end and they figured out our double teams.”
Sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. finished with 14 points for Maryland, while adding team highs of six assists and five steals. Kevin Huerter, the team’s other sophomore guard, scored 11 for Maryland. Cowan also held Rutgers guard Corey Sanders to six points on 3-for-14 shooting. Sanders also committed four turnovers.
"He could get hot at any time, so I really stayed on him and forced him to take tough shots,” Cowan said.
Fernando said he “prayed” Trimble would return for his senior year so he would have a chance to play with him. Cowan, who remains close to his former teammate, liked having Trimble back watching.
“I told him he’s ugly,” Cowan said with a smile. “We always joke like that.”
Trimble actually had something for Turgeon at the coach’s post game news conference.
“I just want to know if you miss me,” Trimble said to his former coach.
“What do you think?” Turgeon asked. “I miss you Melo. I miss you a lot.”
Third double double for Fernando
When Fernando scored on a post-up move on Maryland’s opening possession of the second half, it gave the 6-foot-10 Angolan a double double with 11 points and 10 rebounds — with all the rebounds to that point coming in the first half.
It was the third double double for Fernando, the first coming on Jan. 2 when he had 17 points and 11 rebounds in a home win over Penn State and the second being a 20-point, 10-rebound performance in a road loss at then-No. 3 Purdue on Jan. 31.
While the double double against the Boilermakers and 7-foot-2, 290-pound senior Isaac Haas remains the most impressive given the setting and opponent, what he did Saturday was eye-popping at times.
One play midway through the first half deserved to make ESPN’s top 10: a thunderous one-handed dunk off a lob pass from fellow freshman Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) on an inbounds pass from under the Maryland basket.
"We drew that up, but it’s the first time it’s worked all year,” Turgeon said.
Asked what he liked better, the lob dunk or the 3-pointer, Fernando didn’t hesitate.
"The 3-pointer for sure,” he said. “Lob dunks I’m going to have every time. 3-pointers are like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I had to get it.”
Fernando’s performance against the Scarlet Knights comes after he finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists in Tuesday's loss at Nebraska. After shooting 9-for-14 against the Cornhuskers, Fernando was 8-for-9 Saturday.
Asked what the difference has been in Fernando’s recent play, Turgeon said: “He’s figured out how to stay out of foul trouble, so he stays on the floor. I let him play through a lot of mistakes the other night at Nebraska, a lot of mistakes. For him to take that next step, he’s got to listen better and pay attention to details and tonight he did.”
Layman sees some similarities
Layman, who was Turgeon’s first player to play all four years for him at Maryland, said during a pregame news conference that the struggles of this year’s team remind him of what he experienced early in his career.
“It reminds me of my sophomore year a little bit, and freshman year also,” said Layman, now in his second year with the Portland Trail Blazers. “They’ve just got to stick with it. They’re a young team with a bright future.”
After the Terps went 25-13 in 2012-13 when Layman was a freshman — one of four to play significant minutes that season — and advanced to the semifinals of the NIT, Maryland fell back to 17-15 the following season.
The other three players Layman came in with — Seth Allen, Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell — left after that season with rising senior Nick Faust (City) while Trimble came in, leading the team to three straight NCAA tournament appearances.