COLLEGE PARK — There wasn't a lot of energy for the Maryland men’s basketball team inside Xfinity Center for the first half of Friday’s night’s game against Hofstra. Not from a small crowd, and certainly not from the Terps themselves.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the crowd and Mark Turgeon’s team woke up.
Was it sophomore center Bruno Fernando rescuing an air-balled 3-point try by sophomore guard Darryl Morsell that wound up with freshman guard Eric Ayala hitting one of his own?
Was it Morsell seemingly rising to rafters — or at least over the rim — to nearly dunk in a miss by Ayala?
Or was it freshman guard Aaron Wiggins, after a cold start shooting, making three straight 3s from the same corner?
There was definitely a jolt for the Terps, trailing by four at halftime and by eight early in the second half, turning that energy into an 80-69 victory.
Maryland (4-0) finished with a six players in double figures. Fernando, who didn’t start because an undisclosed disciplinary reason, finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, not missing any of the eight field-goal attempts he tried.
Turgeon, who said afterward that he was “nervous a little bit” about playing a more experienced team that had more size, quickness and talent than any of Maryland’s previous three opponents, was happy with the way the Terps reacted to their first halftime deficit of the season.
“I was really proud of the way we responded, we established Bruno right away in the second half and it opened things up for everybody else,” Turgeon said. “I thought we executed at a high level. … We were good. I told the guys that they should be really proud of this win. You look around and it’s hard to win.”
Asked whether the hustle play by Fernando and the near one-handed dunk by Morsell, who was fouled on the play and made both free throws after hitting the floor hard, contributed to raising the energy in the building and on the bench, Turgeon smiled.
“We played with great energy in the second half, but those were big,” he said. “Anthony [Cowan Jr.] on the break, Bruno saving that ball and us chasing it down and scoring. And Darryl was a highlight play. I wish the dunk would have went in.”
Said Ayala, who added 14 and his first three 3-pointers of the season: “Just playing tougher. The first half, we [were] not getting on the floor for loose balls. Missing boxouts. We made an emphasis in the second half to come in there and just play harder. It wasn’t no X and O’s type thing. Coach wanted us to be tougher.”
After shooting a team-high 59.2 percent from the field as a freshman — it ranked sixth in the Big Ten and helped him earn all-freshman honors — Fernando is now shooting a ridiculous 82.8 percent this season on 24-for-29 from the field. His 8-for-8 helped him join Lonny Baxter and Gary Williams in the school’s record books.
Though most of Fernando’s shots have been either dunks or layups, the array of moves the 6-foot-10 Angolan has to get free and his touch around the basket are pretty impressive.
“I don’t know if there’s a player in the country that’s improved as much from this time last year,” said Turgeon, who declined to discuss his reason for benching Fernando at the start.
Said Wiggins, who benefited by the double teams on Fernando by finding himself wide open on his corner 3-pointers: “His presence is always insane, just the energy and the size, just what he does on the inside for our team. He’s able to get easy buckets and once he gets a few buckets, teams start to try to double him.”
Shortening the bench
After starting redshirt senior forward Ivan Bender in place of Fernando, and using both Wiggins and two other freshmen, shooting guard Serrel Smith Jr. and forward Ricky Lindo Jr., in the first half, Turgeon used just six players in the second half — with Lindo getting just a minute.
While it resulted in Turgeon not taking either Fernando or Cowan (11 points, six rebounds, four steals and four assists to offset three early turnovers) out in the second half, and playing Morsell (12 points and six rebounds) for more than 18 minutes in the second half, the Terps played with more cohesiveness and committed just three turnovers.
“Yeah, I want to win,” Turgeon said.
Turgeon even half-joked about the minute Lindo got.
“Ricky’s minute was really good,” Turgeon said. “He was physical. His minute was really, really good. You knew he was out there, right? The guys that started the second half were really playing well. I thought they kind of got into a groove,”
As for not playing Serrel Smith, who struggled at both ends of the court Friday, Turgeon said: “I don’t like not playing Serrel Smith Jr. in the second half and all that, but that’s a good team [in Hofstra]. We’re young and we’ve got to build confidence within our group and I think we did that tonight.”