The Maryland men’s basketball team did its best to put its disappointing 62-60 loss at Purdue last week in the past, with a pair of victories over Loyola.
Maryland (9-2) has 11 days off before its next game, Dec. 22 against Seton Hall (6-3), which beat then-No. 9 Kentucky, 84-83, in overtime Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Here are three takeaways for the Terps heading into their break:
1. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has apparently decided his team only goes eight deep, including five freshmen.
The fact that Turgeon used redshirt senior forward Ivan Bender and redshirt sophomore forward Joshua Tomaic each for only three minutes in what was essentially a blowout against the Greyhounds was a sign of where the Terps are headed with their rotation.
Though things could change in the next couple of weeks in practice, and Turgeon has a history of changing his mind, it’s become abundantly clear that he wants his team to play faster, and neither Bender nor Tomaic have close to the athleticism of freshman Ricky Lindo Jr.
As long as his two big men, sophomore center Bruno Fernando and freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph), can stay healthy — and out of major foul trouble — there appears to be no reason why Maryland won’t have the two playing together, or one of them with Lindo, or a lineup with one of them and four perimeter players.
2. Serrel Smith Jr. could become a big weapon off the bench as the season goes on.
After a shaky first month, including a 10-minute stint at Purdue when he seemed so nervous he couldn’t catch the ball, the freshman shooting guard put together back-to-back good performances against the Loyolas.
Against Loyola Chicago, Smith finished with eight points in 17 minutes, including a pair of 3-point shots in a three-minute stretch of the second half. Against Loyola Maryland, Smith scored 10 points in 19 minutes, hitting his first four shots in the first half, including a couple of 3-pointers, and finishing 4-for-5.
Smith is also starting to do some other things, most notably on the defensive end where he has become one of the team’s most pesky perimeter defenders. As long as he can limit his turnovers — he had just one over the past two games after committing two at Purdue — he could help prevent defenders from collapsing inside.
3. The perimeter shooting by both Jalen Smith and Fernando could really open up the floor for Maryland.
As much as Turgeon wants his team to play inside-out to take advantage of having two NBA-caliber 6-foot-10 players at his disposal, the ability of both Smith and Fernando to face up and score from the outside is something that makes Maryland extremely dangerous.
What’s good is that neither Smith nor Fernando seem to have the need to prove they can shoot outside — as Robert Carter Jr. did and Diamond Stone didn’t do three years ago, to the detriment of both in terms of their pro potential. But as they showed Tuesday, Smith and Fernando have feathery touches and for the most part take quality shots.
Just as having two big men who can only post up inside can clog things up if they are playing together, having two with the kind of offensive versatility that Smith and Fernando possess will also open up the floor for Maryland’s guards, most notably Anthony Cowan Jr. and Eric Ayala, to drive the ball.
Maryland will certainly be able to play the old-school inside-out with Fernando and Smith, but the Terps will also be able to pull opposing big men outside as others have done to Maryland and make Turgeon’s team even more difficult to guard.