Three plays in the first half of Tuesday's Big Ten opener against Illinois finally allowed Maryland forward L.G. Gill to find a little mojo with his new team.
Early in the game, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound graduate transfer blocked a layup by Illinois guard Tracy Abrams.
Late in the half, Gill twice caught entry passes from Cowan — the first he immediately turned into a thunderous two-handed dunk and the second he caught in mid-air and banked in as he was being fouled.
Each time, Gill received a loud ovation from the announced sellout crowd at Xfinity Center, the kind he rarely heard while playing before more intimate gatherings his first three college seasons at Duquesne.
"I love the energy from the fans," Gill said Friday as Maryland (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) prepared for Sunday's noon home game against Nebraska (7-6, 1-0). "I was telling my family the other day, I love playing in an arena like this. Everyone's into the game. … I just want to go all out for the fans."
In a season-high 23 minutes off the bench during an 84-59 victory over the Fighting Illini, Gill finished with six points (making three of four shots) and seven rebounds, also tying a season high, along with the block.
It was perhaps the best performance in what has been a slow start for Gill, including a stretch of five games when he went scoreless in four and was in foul trouble against both Towson and Stony Brook.
"I think you can say it was a turning point, because I'm playing more [center] because our bigs are out," Gill said. "I think for me, during that game, the blocked shot kind of got me going."
It was also the kind of contribution Maryland coach Mark Turgeon envisioned from Gill when he brought him in last spring as the team's latest graduate transfer, following Rasheed Sulaimon last season and Richaud Pack in 2014-15.
The recent injuries to centers Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky have made Gill and 6-9 redshirt sophomore Ivan Bender slightly undersized centers. Neither Dodd (knee) nor Cekovsky (ankle) are expected to play Sunday against the Cornhuskers.
"We've just kind of locked in since we came back from Christmas, as him as a 5-man (center), and he's just playing with great energy and great effort," Turgeon said Friday. "It's good for him. I feel bad for him because he's been back and forth, the 4 [power forward] and the 5."
Mostly used as a stretch-4 at Duquesne — 329 of his 584 field-goal attempts in his three years there were 3-pointers — Gill didn't try his first 3-pointer at Maryland until attempting two, making the first, against Oklahoma State on Dec. 3.
"This kid has had to be bounce back and force," Turgeon said. "It's harder on big guys, just naturally, when you come in a new system. He really had to change his game for us. He shot about 35 percent from 3 last year. I'd like to think before the year's over, he'll be kind of a pick-and-pop guy for us."
Said Gill, whose 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per game are similar to the stats he had as a freshman, "It's been a bit of an adjustment. I wouldn't say it's been too difficult. As long as we're still winning, that's all that I really care about. If it's something I have to keep doing for us to continue to win, I'm going to do it."
Not that Gill had any statistical goals going into his final season after averaging career highs of 10.1 points and 6.5 rebounds in 30 minutes per game as a junior at Duquesne.
"I never really looked at the numbers," Gill said. "Some of the things I'm doing right now are probably not going to be on the stats — things like boxing guys out and letting other guys get the rebound. I just care about winning."
Gill knows that his role will partly depend on the availability and productivity of others, but also that he certainly can find a more consistent role as long as he provides leadership and energy.
The only senior aside from Dodd, Gill acknowledged that it's difficult to come in and have others immediately follow if you're not starting or playing that much.
"For me, it's just vocal. If I'm not on the court, I see certain things and letting guys know where to be or what they could have done better," said Gill, who turned 22 the day before Christmas. "It can be tough, but I still try to do my best at it."
Turgeon asked Gill to be patient — and resilient — when his minutes were up and down.
"I'd always tell him when he was going through it, 'Just bear with me. It's all going to work out. I hope you enjoy winning. That's why you chose us,'" Turgeon said. "Hopefully winning trumps everything else. All kids want to play."
The Illinois game was not just the start of the Big Ten season for Maryland, but maybe a restart for Gill.
"He gave us great minutes against Illinois and he's going to have to continue do that until we get healthy," Turgeon said. "Hopefully because of the minutes he's getting now, he's going to have confidence going forward."
NOTES: Nebraska is coming off an 87-83 win over No. 16 Indiana on Wednesday in Bloomington. The Cornhuskers scored 51 points in the second half, the most a Nebraska team has scored in a half of a league game since 2001. ... Maryland has won four straight games against Nebraska without a loss since joining the Big Ten, including a 97-86 win in the Big Ten tournament last season in Indianapolis. The three regular-season games have been won by a total of 12 points.