Maryland men’s basketball freshman Jalen Smith spent more than 30 minutes after practice ended Tuesday afternoon getting hit with rubber blocking pads by strength coach Kyle Tarp and a couple of team managers trying to toughen up a player called "Stix” around the basket.
What Smith got out of the session materialized Wednesday night against Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena. After another slow start by the Terps, the former McDonald’s All American and Mount Saint Joseph star took it to the reeling Cornhuskers.
Starting with a personal 11-point run that erased an early seven-point deficit for Maryland, Smith led the No. 24 Terps to a much-needed 60-45 victory. The 6-foot-10 forward finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, his third double double of the season and first in the Big Ten. Sophomore center Bruno Fernando pulled down a career-high 19 rebounds to go along with 13 points.
It was the second time this season that Smith took over a game against Nebraska, the last time coming in a 74-72 win over the Cornhuskers at Xfinity Center on Jan. 2, when he scored his team’s last seven points, including the game-winner on a floater with three seconds left.
This time, Smith was dominant throughout the course of the game. Along with the 11-point outburst that helped Maryland (18-6, 9-4 Big Ten) close the first half on a 20-5 run, he added seven points during a 15-4 run that quieted the crowd and disheartened Nebraska after the Cornhuskers cut an 11-point deficit early in the second half to two.
When Smith hit a straightaway 3-pointer for a 46-33 lead to punctuate the run, he raised both arms as a boxer might after a knockout. It certainly proved to be that for the Terps, who came in having lost three of their past four games, slipping from a tie for second in the Big Ten to fifth.
The loss was the sixth straight for Nebraska (13-10, 3-9). Junior forward Isaiah Roby led the Cornhuskers with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Instant analysis: While Smith’s offense certainly had a lot to do with Maryland’s fourth Big Ten road win this season — double last season’s total — the team’s overall defense played a factor as well. Though the Cornhuskers have been struggling, especially since senior forward Isaac Copeland was lost for the season with a torn ACL on Jan. 26, Maryland held Nebraska to a season-low point total. The Cornhuskers shot 21.1 percent from the field (12 of 57).