Small-ball lineup, growing freshmen fuel Maryland's comeback bid against No. 4 Virginia

After the Maryland men’s basketball team’s fell behind by 17 early in the second half of a 76-71 loss to No. 4 Virginia on Wednesday night, Terps coach Mark Turgeon called timeout.

He went to a smaller lineup, alternating between sophomore center Bruno Fernando and freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) with four perimeter players.

Immediately out of the timeout, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Smith, subbing for Fernando, was able to score inside.

Eventually, it was Fernando who got most of the time, being bigger, stronger and better passing out of double teams than Smith.

It also helped defensively, allowing the No. 24 Terps to close out on Virginia’s shooters and get around ball screens better, as the Cavaliers cooled off as the Terps cut their deficit to single digits.

“We started switching the down screen and we double the post if we had a mismatch,” Turgeon said. “I thought it helped us a lot. We still didn’t guard great. We didn’t rebound as well in the small lineup. I think it gave us some confidence.”

The Terps were also able to get the Cavaliers, perennially among the nation’s leaders in not committing fouls, to 10 fouls with a little over 10 minutes left. Though Maryland missed some free throws — finishing 10-for-16 from the free-throw line, while Virginia was 10-for-15 — it helped fuel the comeback.

“That’s a really good sign for us, if we can draw fouls against a team that’s No. 1 in the country in [avoiding] fouls,” Turgeon said. “There’s a lot of positives, but we’ve just got to make a few more free throws.”

Freshmen step up

Similar to its last game against Virginia four years ago in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Maryland’s five freshmen played well.

Ayala continued his hot 3-point shooting by hitting three of four and Wiggins, after another slow start, wound up shooting 3-for-5 from deep.

“Eric’s a winner,” Turgeon said,. “The kid [freshman guard Kihei Clark] guarding him was terrific. He was giving Eric fits out there. … But Eric made some big shots for us.

“I was happy to see Aaron [hit some shots]. Aaron was really nervous in the first half and he’ll probably admit to that, but I thought the second half he played with much more poise and made some shots.”

Said Ayala: “I think a lot of the freshmen tonight on our team grew up. It was definitely am experience for us, and we’re going to learn from it, for sure.”

Smith struggled a bit, trying to figure out his role in the offense. Early on, he missed a couple of open 3-point attempts. While he was able to get into a flow in the first half, he wound up with just six points and five rebounds in a little over 26 minutes. He was also on the floor during some of Virginia’s runs.

“It’s tough,” Turgeon said of using just one big man for most of the second half. “They’re so hard … the double [team] in the post and all that stuff. I just felt that defensively, our big lineup wasn’t good enough tonight, so we went small, but I’ve got to share time at [center] with Bruno and Stix [Smith].”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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