Senior center Damonte Dodd had difficulty hanging onto a number of would-be assists from Melo Trimble on Saturday at Minnesota. Junior Michal Cekovsky was still having issues with his timing and conditioning in his second game back after missing more than a month with a foot injury.
Ivan Bender didn't win single-handedly Maryland's most recent victory. But the Terps might not have won without him.
Bender's contributions to the come-from-behind 85-78 win at Williams Arena might seem modest – eight points, five rebounds and one blocked shot in 18 minutes – but they were necessary to the Terps remaining unbeaten in Big Ten road games.
Bender's ability to read the defense and find seams in the pick-and-roll, then catch passes from Maryland's junior point guard and finish at the rim, might not have been as spectacular as Trimble's playmaking or the 3-point shooting of freshmen Justin Jackson (5-for-5) and Kevin Huerter (5-of-7).
It was, much like Bender, quietly effective.
The only time the 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to get demonstrative is when he and Cekovsky playfully yell at each other in Croatian.
Bender is quietly putting together a solid season for the Terps.
Injured toward the end of what had been an impressive preseason that led to Maryland coach Mark Turgeon calling Bender the team's "most improved player," Bender played with a fractured wrist and played through a sprained knee, missing just one game, against Oklahoma State.
After barely getting on the court for more than garbage time last season, Bender is averaging 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game entering Tuesday's game at Ohio State. He has made nearly 70 percent of his field goals, the best of anyone in the 17th-ranked Terps' rotation.
"It's easy with this team, because every opponent we play this year or going to play is focusing on Melo," Bender said before practice Monday in College Park. "He's so good on driving and the penetrate, so for me, I also play with good point guards and playmakers in my career [in Europe].
"The only thing you have to do is find the hole and read the defense, so it's not that hard with Melo because he's such a good player and he occupies the whole defense. All my layups and made baskets are like wide-open baskets because of his penetration and my reading the defense. It's not that hard playing with him.
During a key stretch early in the second half when the Terps began to close what had been a 12-point deficit, Bender scored twice.
Both passes were delivered perfectly by Trimble, who wound up with a season-high nine assists and no turnovers in 33 minutes. Trimble also had an assist on a basket by Bender that put the Terps ahead 60-59. Bender's last basket came on a rare dunk to cut the deficit to 66-65 after a 3-pointer by Golden Gophers guard Akeem Springs.
On a team with several role players, Bender's play has been something of a surprise, given how little he contributed a year ago sitting behind forwards Robert Carter Jr., Jake Layman and, to an extent, Diamond Stone.
Asked how far he has come and how much more he can improve, Bender said, "A long way. Because when I came here [two years ago], I was injured [after two ACL surgeries on the same knee in two years] and I took a redshirt and I didn't play. I was just working out with our strength and conditioning coach, Kyle [Tarp].
"I didn't participate too much. Last year I didn't play so much because we had five really good guys under the rim. This year it's more comfortable because everyone's believing more in me, and Coach is giving me more opportunities and minutes. I'm very excited for all those game I've played and [will] play in the future."
As the interview ended, Bender had one more thing to offer.
"Have a good day," he said.
Who wouldn't want to pass him the ball?