Maryland coach Mark Turgeon is a serial worrier, but his concerns going into Saturday night’s home game against Rutgers seemed legit.
What happens if his young and enigmatic team didn’t show up against one of the Big Ten’s bottom feeders after losing another close game on the road Tuesday at Nebraska?
And, just as critical in what has been an injury-marred, confidence-sapping season for the Terps, what happens if the fans don’t show up at Xfinity Center?
One more thing: what happens if the fans who do come wind up cheering more for honorary game captains Melo Trimble and Jake Layman than for Anthony Cowan Jr. and Kevin Huerter?
As things turned out, Turgeon’s fears were erased early by Maryland’s 10-0 start and by a decent crowd despite the records of the teams playing and the nasty weather outside.
Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland’s 61-51 victory over the Scarlet Knights:
Another monster game for Fernando
In Bruno Fernando’s previous two double-doubles this season, the freshman center needed some late rebounds to reach that achievement.
Against Rutgers, the 6-foot-10 Angolan had 10 boards by halftime and went into double-figure scoring on the first possession of the second half.
Fernando dominated from start to finish, and while the competition wasn't Purdue’s Isaac Haas or even Penn State’s Mike Watkins, it was still pretty impressive.
Coming off a 21-point, nine-rebound, five-assist performance in the loss in Lincoln, Fernando finished with 18 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and tied his career-high with 34 minutes.
The highlight reel included a one-handed mid-air slam off an inbounds pass and Fernando’s first career 3-pointer that brought back memories of a young Karl Malone.
Turgeon preferred to talk about what Fernando did at the defensive end, and rightfully so because that is where his young big man has struggled more than on offense.
The fans didn’t chant “One more year...one more year” as they did to Trimble during his career, but they might give it a thought for senior day against Michigan next Saturday.
Fernando could stand to play another year — or even two — of college basketball — but what he is starting to show on a more regular basis might be downright scary for opponents.
Too quick on the trigger
Had it not been for some of his teammates settling for 3-point shots before even looking in Fernando’s direction, he would have easily broken his career-high for points (21) as well.
While Fernando made eight of the nine shots he took, and Cowan shot 5-for-10, the rest of the Terps were a combined 9-for-24.
Huerter shot 3-for-10, including 0-for-4 on 3-pointers. Redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley was 2 of 7, with all but one shot (and miss) coming on 3-pointers.
As a team, the Terps shot 5-for-17 on 3s (18 of 29 on 2-pointers) and while it really didn’t matter much after Maryland used another 10-0 burst to start the second half to build a 41-19 lead, it’s something to watch.
There’s nothing wrong with taking open 3-pointers, especially if opponents are going to start double-teaming Fernando even more, but the Terps shouldn’t settle for 3s, as they did at times against Rutgers and as they have been wont to to.
About only player who wasn’t guilty of that was senior wing Jared Nickens, who for only the third time in his career while playing more than 10 minutes (12) didn’t take a single shot. He also didn’t get a rebound or an assist.
Maryland fans show up
As the team’s losses piled up this season, attendance at home games started to slip noticeably. Except for last month’s game against Michigan State, large chunks of seats in the upper reaches of Xfinity Center were often empty.
Saturday’s game was far from a sellout, but the announced crowd of 15,587 was a lot closer to reality than some of those announced at recent games. Given the weather and driving conditions around game time, it was more than respectable.
Turgeon made a point to talk about how the fans were as tough as his team, and that was smart.
Considering that fans in Nebraska and Iowa and Illinois do that on a regular basis regardless of how their teams are doing, Maryland fans shouldn’t become the Florida State of the Big Ten — only showing up for big name opponents or if the home team is doing well.
With one more scheduled home game Saturday against Michigan, Turgeon’s team deserves that kind of support. The Terps might not be pretty, or even fun, to watch this season, but they have continued to play hard.
And who knows, it might impress the NIT selection committee enough to throw Maryland a couple of home games should the Terps not do the unthinkable and run the table to find their way into the NCAA tournament in a couple of weeks.