COLLEGE PARK — A year ago, Maryland’s Big Ten opener against Purdue was played on a Friday night before an enthusiastic crowd at Xfinity Center.
Midway through the first half, the crowd was nearly silent as the Boilermakers raced out to a 28-14 lead. The Terps fought back and briefly took the lead in the second half, only to lose, 80-75.
On Friday night, Maryland trailed No. 22 Indiana by the same score with just under seven minutes left in the first half. One of the biggest crowds of the season had been muted.
There was a different result this time, however. After getting within five points and trailing by eight at halftime before slipping behind by 10 early in the second half, the Terps went on a 16-0 run, built their lead to 10 and won.
Here are three takeaways from Maryland’s 78-75 win over the Hoosiers:
1. Bruno Fernando might not be the Big Ten Player of the Year, but he could be the league’s toughest cover.
A year ago in Bloomington, Ind., Maryland had no answer for Juwan Morgan late in what turned out to be a 71-68 win for the Hoosiers.
One of the reasons Indiana was able to erase the Terps’ late five-point lead was that Fernando, then a freshman, had left the game with a sprained ankle.
Morgan finished with 25 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks in 36 minutes. He made two layups and a free throw to erase Maryland’s late lead.
On Friday, Fernando did to Indiana what Morgan did to Maryland a year ago. He scored a career-high 25 points with 13 rebounds, three assists and one block in 37 minutes.
Fernando started Maryland’s second-half comeback with a short jumper, then added a dunk, four rebounds, an assist and a block in the big run that erased what had been a 37-27 deficit.
Even on a night when freshman Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) struggled at both ends — missing all nine shots he tried and having problems defensively as well — the Hoosiers had no answer for Fernando.
It will be interesting to see which team in the Big Ten does.
As a freshman, Fernando had three double doubles. This season he already has nine, including five in his past six games, and missed three others by either a rebound or a point.
With Purdue’s Isaac Haas and Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. having moved on from the college game, Fernando is clearly the most physical and versatile big man in the Big Ten.
2. The showdown between two of the Big Ten’s top freshmen was one-sided.
Romeo Langford came to Indiana as the league’s top-rated high school player, 247Sports’ No. 7 overall player out of New Albany, Ind. Smith wasn’t far behind, at No. 16.
With more than three dozen NBA scouts and two general managers in attendance Friday night, Langford showed why he will be among the top players taken in the 2019 NBA draft. (Fernando’s stock might have soared, too.)
Smith looked like he has on a few occasions this season — nervous, out of sync and appearing as if he knew every one of his moves was being watched.
The up-and-down start to Smith’s freshman season has been noticed by NBA scouts.
After appearing on several mock drafts as a mid-to-late first-round pick in 2019, Smith is now being mentioned more as a high first-rounder in 2020.
Langford started slowly Friday night while being guarded by Smith’s former Mount Saint Joseph teammate, Darryl Morsell. He scored only eight of his game-high 28 points in the first half.
The 6-foot-6 guard didn’t look rushed the whole night, while the 6-10 Smith appeared to be going too fast for his own good.
Though one game won’t determine when and where the two freshmen wind up in the NBA, Langford looks like he could play up a level right now.
And despite some terrific performances this season — including a season-high 21-point game in the win at Minnesota on Tuesday — Smith certainly does not.
That could be good — or even great — for both Smith and the Terps.
3. The appearance by Jalen Hurts could be a onetime cameo.
One of the highlights for Maryland fans Friday night wasn’t what was happening on the court, especially in the second half. It was who was in the stands, sitting right behind press row.
Sure, new football coach Michael Locksley received a well-deserved ovation from the fans. But it was Locksley’s guest sitting next to him that caused the buzz.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has put his name in the NCAA transfer portal and is expected to play elsewhere as a graduate transfer next season, was almost a distraction at times.
While NCAA rules prevented Hurts from featured on the scoreboard screen as Locksley was, fans who had read on social media that he was coming to the game took notice.
Sadly for those fans, and others who would see Hurts as a player who could jump-start Locksley’s return to Maryland, it might be the last time they see Hurts on the campus.
According to reports, Hurts will visit Miami on Sunday. The Hurricanes hired Alabama quarterbacks coach Dan Enos as their offensive coordinator, which could attract Hurts.
Other high-profile programs, such as Oklahoma, TCU and Houston — located in Hurts’ hometown — are also interested in a player who led the Crimson Tide to two national championship games.
While it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Locksley can use the same skills as a recruiter to get Hurts as he did to convince Stefon Diggs to come to Maryland, the fact that Hurts doesn’t have the same local ties makes it seem like a long shot.
But it was nice for Terps fans to fantasize a little, especially when their team had started so poorly Friday night. In the end, beating Indiana was nearly as important a get for the Maryland basketball team anyway.