During its current seven-game winning streak, Maryland has shot the ball well from 3-point range and the foul line. It has defended the basket and the perimeter, and shown an ability — except for a stretch against Wisconsin on Monday — to close better than it has since its first season in the Big Ten four years ago.
The scene at Value City Arena on Friday night was much the same as it had been in the previous two road games at Minnesota and Rutgers. The crowd, pumped up early at the prospect of a win for the home team, became frustrated, then quiet and finally started to leave long before game’s end.
Against the Scarlet Knights, the Terps turned an early deficit into a 21-point halftime lead, built it to as many as 27 in the second half before settling for a 14-point win. Against the Gophers, Maryland’s unexpected zone defense early in the second half was the difference in an easy 15-point victory.
And, finally, against the Buckeyes, Maryland overcame some sloppy work on the defensive boards early to take a seven-point lead at halftime. The Terps then did the same — after three straight turnovers to start the second half to see its lead chopped to one — by dominating at the end.
Here are the takeaways from the 75-61 win over Ohio State:
1. Anthony Cowan Jr.’s 3-point range is starting to look like Kevin Huerter’s, and that should make him even tougher to guard.
One of the weaknesses in Cowan’s game his first two seasons was his 3-point shooting. In making a little over 35 percent (80 of 228), it allowed opposing defenses to play off the slithery, quick 6-foot point guard from Bowie.
While Cowan’s long-range accuracy is still not great this season — 35.7 percent (41 for 115) after making three of seven against the Buckeyes — his range is now bordering on what former backcourtmate Huerter’s was in his two seasons in College Park.
Because Cowan hit a 28-footer that proved to be the game-winner against Wisconsin in Monday’s 64-60 win at Xfinity Center, and then made a few more well beyond the 3-point line Friday, guarding Cowan is becoming a nightmare.
Few Big Ten guards can stay in front of Cowan, and if he starts knocking down long 3-pointers with regularity, it’s going to force defenses to decide whether to get closer or risk having Cowan blow by for layups.
2. It’s apparent what Mark Turgeon saw in freshmen Serrel Smith Jr. and Ricky Lindo Jr. when he signed them so late.
Both Smith and Lindo were not supposed to be at Maryland this season.
Smith became available after Mississippi fired coach Andy Kennedy late last season, but didn’t really get a ton of interest from the Terps until it looked like Huerter might turn pro after his sophomore year.
Lindo was headed to prep school in Massachusetts, but was offered a chance to come to Maryland late in the summer when Mississippi State transfer Schnider Herard opted to play professionally in Europe.
Even after they signed, there was still some question about how they would fit into Turgeon’s rotation.
While the trip to Italy in August firmed up Smith’s role as a shooter off the bench, it’s his defense that has been his most important attribute. Lindo didn’t even join the team until it returned from the summer tour, but now is the first sub among the forwards.
Until fellow freshman Aaron Wiggins broke out of a slump with an 11-point performance off the bench Friday, Smith and Lindo had done more to provide the depth Maryland has lacked in recent seasons.
If Wiggins can continue to do what he did against the Buckeyes — finishing with 11 points in 23 minutes — the Terps could wind up with one of the best benches in the Big Ten, and late-season fades Turgeon’s teams have experienced in recent years could finally be rectified.
3. Regardless of what some people think, Bruno Fernando is one of the five best players in the Big Ten.
During a Big Ten Network telecast this week, one of its college basketball analysts listed his five top players in the league. He had Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Michigan State’s Cassius Winston, Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis and Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr.
All are worthy, but Fernando should be on the list for one simple reason: he might be the top choice for Defensive Player of the Year, and his offense isn’t that far behind.
For the season, Fernando has the most blocked shots (41), has the best field-goal percentage (68.4) for a player who has taken more than 100 shots, is third in rebounding (10.2 per game) and is averaging 14.5 points on just over eight shots a game.
In Big Ten play, Fernando is clearly the best rebounder — leading the league in overall rebounding (11.9 per game). He is sixth in free-throw shooting (87.9 percent) and eighth in field-goal percentage (59.4). Fernando is averaging 13.8 points a game while taking eight shots a game.
In comparison, Edwards is averaging 21 points in league games — tied for second with Minnesota’s Amir Coffey behind Indiana freshman Romeo Langford (21.3). But Edwards is taking nearly 18 shots a game and shooting under 36 percent from the field. Palmer is averaging 18 points a game in league play on more than 17 shots and is shooting just under 30 percent.
Though he’s averaging 18.8 points a game in league play, and is a great passer for a big man (4.0 assists per game), Happ is averaging fewer rebounds (8.0), is right below Fernando’s 59.4 percent field-goal percentage (58.2) and is not the same defensive presence. Happ is also a liability at the free-throw line.
Brazdeikis has become a crowd favorite at the Crisler Center and is certainly giving Langford some competition for Freshman of the Year, but if Langford is not on the list when he’s clearly by far Indiana’s best player, Brazdeikis shouldn’t be either. Going scoreless in Saturday’s loss at Wisconsin doesn’t help.
Of those mentioned, only Winston really deserves that accolade right now. Not only is his team is the only one left unbeaten in league play, but the junior guard is the Big Ten’s fifth-best scorer (18.7 points per game) and the league leader in assists (7.3 per game). He’s fifth in 3-point shooting (45.2 percent).
Perhaps you can't mention Fernando without giving some credit to Cowan. But where would Winston be without Nick Ward and Joshua Langford? And where would Brazdeikis be without Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole and Zavier Simpson?
Fernando is not the only one who was slighted. A strong case could be made for Romeo Langford, who is arguably the Big Ten’s most talented player and should go higher than anyone else from the league in the 2019 NBA draft. You could also make an argument for Iowa’s Tyler Cook.
It’s similar to what happened years ago in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and how some look mostly at scoring to judge a player’s value.
North Carolina State’s Rodney Monroe, a Baltimore kid who went to St. Maria Goretti High in Hagerstown, led the league in scoring and was named its player of the year in 1990-91 after averaging 27 points a game as a senior. He broke the legendary David Thompson’s career scoring record.
But Duke’s Christian Laettner — a player that many, including some of his own teammates, didn’t care for — averaged close to 20 points and nine rebounds in leading the Blue Devils to a regular-season conference title and eventually the first of two straight NCAA championships. He didn’t win.