Dominant Fernando, cohesive freshmen lead Maryland men's basketball in rout of North Carolina A&T

As a freshman last season, Maryland center Bruno Fernando was more manchild than the man, more a second or third or even fourth option on a men’s basketball team that was, sometimes for better but often for worse, too guard-oriented.

In the first three games of his sophomore year, the only thing that has prevented the 6-foot-10 Angolan from completely dominating the competition has been his tendency to be called for fouls, sometimes in the kind of bunches with which Fernando seems to score.

After getting 14 points, nine rebounds and only one offensive foul in a little under 15 minutes the first half of Monday night’s 82-59 victory over North Carolina A&T at Xfinity Center, Fernando got whistled twice in the first 47 seconds of the second half.

Calling the two fouls “bad luck,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said he was disappointed for Fernando “because he was on his way to a monster game. He could have been 15, 16 rebounds and 20-something points against a zone.”

Fernando finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds in a little over 20 minutes — his first double double of the season and fourth of his career — to lead the Terps to their third straight win to start the season.

“I wasn’t really keeping track of what I was doing,” Fernando said after hitting seven of 10 shots from the field. “I guess the guys were just doing a great job finding me open. And I think I was doing of rebounding, getting second chances.”

Four other Maryland players scored in double figures. Freshman wing Aaron Wiggins scored 14 points, junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and sophomore guard Darryl Morsell each had 13 and Morsell’s former Mount Saint Joseph teammate, forward and Big Ten Freshman of the Week Jalen Smith, added 12.

“Being up 49-25 at the half was good. I liked the way we finished the half,” said Turgeon, whose team opened up the big lead with the help of a 31-12 run. “Bruno had probably his best half since he’s been here.”

Despite the fact that the Aggies eschewed their normal man-to-man defense by playing a zone for all but one possession of the game, the Terps were able to get the ball inside to Fernando and Smith.

“I just think our big guys didn’t sit there and say, ‘They’re zoning us, we’re not going to have a good night,’ “ Turgeon said. “Bruno’s energy was terrific. I told him to get every rebound if he could on offense and he tried.”

Warming up from 3

Maryland finished the game shooting 10-for-30 from 3-point range. While that's not exactly the definition of hot shooting, it was “a step in the right direction” said Turgeon, whose team had gone 7-for-42 from long range the first two games and missed its first seven 3s on Monday.

Cowan, who went 2-for-14 from beyond the arc in the first two games, finished 4-for-9 on Monday. Wiggins, who was 3-for-12 coming into the game, wound up 4-for-8.

Even some of the shots Maryland missed looked good to Turgeon.

“Had four or five wide-open ones that rimmed out a little bit that probably could have gone down for us, then you’d be talking about a great shooting night it was,” Turgeon said. “This is the best we’ve played in our first three games, so we’re heading the right way.”

Freshman togetherness

During the early part of Maryland’s strong first-half run, the Terps had four freshmen on the floor in Wiggins, Smith, point guard Eric Ayala and guard Serrel Smith Jr. playing with redshirt senior forward Ivan Bender.

Then Turgeon substituted freshman forward Ricky Lindo Jr. and Maryland had five freshmen on the floor, perhaps the first time in Turgeon’s eight years at Maryland. It could have been the first time he had four since 2012-13.

“I think they made a huge jump today,” Fernando said. “They’re getting better each day, each practice we have. I think they’re focusing more on details, on little things like trying to focus where to be on defense.”

Aside from Smith and Wiggins, Lindo finished with seven rebounds, four points and three steals in a little over 17 minutes. Serrel Smith, who didn’t score in his first two games, had seven points and three rebounds in 16 minutes. Ayala had a team-high five assists in 21 minutes.

Lindo was not aware that the five freshmen were on the court together for a short stretch.

“We just like playing together, do what what we have to do,” said Lindo, who was the last of the six freshmen to sign with this year’s class that was ranked seventh nationally and first in the Big Ten. “It doesn’t matter if it’s five freshmen, or seniors or walk-ons.”

Said Wiggins: “I think we’re able to communicate really well. We’re really close and everything. We have a lot of chemistry and everything. All five of us playing on the court [at the same time], that’s really cool. That’s a lot of freshmen. It’s fun. We have a lot of fun. I love the guys.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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