WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. — For most of the first half of Wednesday night’s game against No. 3 Purdue at Mackey Arena, Bruno Fernando and Darryl Morsell looked like deer-in-the-headlights freshmen for Maryland.
Fernando, starting in place of injured senior Michael Cekovsky, had trouble at both ends of the floor against 7-foot-2, 290-pound senior Isaac Haas.
Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) had been a beast on the boards, getting seven of his team’s 19 rebounds, but seemed unsure whether to shoot with the room the Boilermakers were giving him.
At halftime, the Terps trailed by 11 points after being down as many as 15.
“I wasn’t really assertive,” said Morsell, who had just two points in the first half. “Like the defense was playing off me and I wasn’t taking advantage of it. The second half, the team told me I needed to be more aggressive in order to have some success.”
Both Morsell and Fernando helped the Terps climb back into the game, eventually cutting the deficit to three points with a little over nine minutes left before falling to the Boilermakers, 75-67.
“I think me and Darryl grew up a lot in this game,” Fernando said after Maryland’s fifth loss in six games. “We did a lot of things that we just couldn’t do before. It was a great game against a great team.”
Despite picking up his third personal foul a little more than two minutes into the second half, and his fourth with 11:52 remaining, Fernando scored 15 of his team-high 20 points after halftime to go with 10 rebounds overall.
Asked whether playing with four fouls helped sharpen his concentration, Fernando said: “Yeah, it really did. I knew I couldn’t afford to foul anymore. I just kept going to the boards and being aggressive without fouling.”
After missing a layup early in the second half that Fernando turned into a three-point play, Morsell hit five of his last six shots and scored 11 points in the second half to finish with 13 points and nine rebounds.
“I felt like I grew up in the second half,” Morsell said. “Bruno personally took the challenge guarding Isaac Haas. He battled with him all night; he played phenomenal. I feel like he couldn’t do much better. He played great.”
Said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon: “I was really proud of my freshmen.”
Fernando said Turgeon didn’t say anything to him about playing against Haas in Cekovsky’s absence. Though Haas finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, Fernando more than held his own despite giving up 4 inches and more than 40 pounds.
“I knew with Ceko down, my teammates are going to rely on me even more than they did in the past,” Fernando said. “I just had to come in and fight all night and do the things I could to stop [Haas]. He’s a great player. I give him a lot of credit.”
It came on Purdue’s first possession of the second half. After Fernando dunked to cut Maryland’s deficit to nine, Haas raced downcourt and had a clear lane to the basket until Morsell stepped in front of him.
Haas was called for a charge.
Asked if he blinked seeing the Big Ten’s biggest player coming straight at him with a head of steam, Morsell smiled.
“I didn’t blink,” Morsell said. “I just closed my eyes and let whatever happened happen.”
While Fernando’s biggest battle has been with staying healthy — he has sprained his right ankle twice and his left ankle once since the preseason, along with recently fighting the flu — Morsell's biggest problem has been outside shooting.
After Morsell missed seven of 11 shots in Sunday’s loss to then-No. 6 Michigan State, and missed his only 3-point attempt to slip to 3-for-22 on the season, Turgeon reached out to Morsell with a new directive.
“After the Michigan State game, this was like 7 o’clock and I left the building at 4, I [texted] Darryl, 'I love you … but we’ve got to get a midrange game,’ ” Turgeon said Wednesday. “And he said, ‘I’m heading to the gym right now, Coach.’ ”
Said Morsell: “That needed to be my bread and butter. I went to work on it right away, throughout the week I was working on it. I don’t know what clicked. I guess it was my teammates’ confidence in me. In the second half, I guess I found a rhythm.”
Acknowledging that trying to get Morsell to improve his 3-point shooting was a ”mistake,” Turgeon said the 6-4, 205-pound guard did a better job against the Boilermakers finding ways to score.
“He made some nice cuts, got all the way to the rim and he had to learn how to not be guarded and just play basketball,” Turgeon said. “He was able to do that in the second half.”
Senior wing Jared Nickens, who had some breakout moments as a freshman, said he was impressed with what he saw from a team that has endured struggles the past few weeks, particularly by its two freshman starters.
"Collectively we got a lot better playing against a team like that,” Nickens said. “They both stepped up. Bruno got it going in the second half and Darryl was moving without the ball and found his spots. That helped a lot.”