When Radford started Saturday’s game against Maryland by hitting eight of its first nine shots and scoring on its first eight possessions, there was a palpable air of concern permeating the Xfinity Center.
Coming a week after the Terps had lost at home to Seton Hall — giving disgruntled Maryland fans plenty of time to ruminate about their disaffection for coach Mark Turgeon — the Highlanders jumped out to an early 19-10 lead.
Though some of those feelings resurfaced again early in the second half after the Terps had watched their hard-earned two-point halftime lead turn into a quick three-point deficit, they disappeared in a 31-12 run for Maryland.
Asked whether he was satisfied with his team’s 10-3 record headed into the restart of the Big Ten schedule Wednesday at home against Nebraska, Turgeon said he preferred to look through a narrower lens.
“What I was pleased about was how we responded to the last game and the things we’re trying to do to make our team better,” he said. ”We are who we are. The record is what it is. But it’s really what lies ahead.
“I thought we made huge strides today in a lot of areas as a team. Hopefully we can do that again between now and Wednesday. That’ll help us. We’ve got an unbelievably tough schedule, so we’re going to have to bring it every night to be successful.”
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s 78-64 win over Radford:
1. Bruno Fernando should be Maryland’s No. 1 option on offense.
In his eight seasons, Turgeon has never had a big man good enough to be the focal point of his team’s offense. He does now, as the sophomore center has continually proved through the first 13 games of the season.
With freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) sitting out Saturday’s game with an illness, Fernando saw double- and triple-teams nearly every time he touched the ball against the Highlanders.
His 19 points and 12 rebounds only partly reflected Fernando’s ability to take over a close game. His improvement in passing out of double-teams — and teammates hitting shots — was one of the keys to a 44-point second half.
Though most Big Ten teams have the size to counter Fernando, few have big men as strong and quick as the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Angolan. That he now can step away from the basket to shoot a reliable midrange shot makes him even tougher to cover.
Turgeon certainly won’t ignore Smith, who already has shown his own offensive versatility. But the Terps need to look inside to both players on nearly every offensive possession going forward, with Fernando as the clear No. 1 option on most nights.
2. Ricky Lindo Jr. is developing into a solid frontcourt backup.
The last player in Maryland’s six-man, seventh-ranked recruiting class to sign, the skinny 6-8, 200-pound forward showed again why he needs a steady 15 minutes a game off the bench for the Terps to be successful.
His 7-foot-1 wingspan allows Lindo to get his hands on a lot of balls for rebounds and blocked shots. He also has a decent feel offensively and is not a bad passer or shooter, largely the result that he was a guard until a late growth spurt in high school.
It was a bit head-scratching when Turgeon started little-used redshirt sophomore Joshua Tomaic in place of Smith on Saturday, but he quickly went to Lindo when Radford forward Ed Polite Jr. put up a quick seven points to fuel his team’s fast start.
Lindo quickly shut him down — Polite didn’t score again until late in the game — while putting up an impressive stat line himself with a season-high 10 rebounds, eight points and two blocked shots in 22 minutes.
3. Anthony Cowan Jr. is still struggling with his new role.
On Maryland’s first possession of the game, the Terps worked the ball against Radford’s zone and found Cowan for a wide open 3-pointer from the corner. The junior guard’s shot was an air ball.
It set the tone for an uneven performance. Cowan finished with 10 points on 2-for-9 shooting, including 1-for-5 on 3-pointers, to go along with five assists and two turnovers in a season-low 28 minutes.
While he played well in spurts, Cowan has to be more consistent for the Terps to have any chance to stay in the top half of the Big Ten and make the NCAA tournament after missing out last season.
Cowan is having the same problem Melo Trimble did as a junior when he was forced to play off the ball more after Cowan’s arrival as a freshman. In his case, Cowan has been moved with the arrival of Eric Ayala Jr.
With Turgeon giving Ayala more responsibility, especially toward the end of shot clock situations, as the season wears on, it’s up to Cowan to adjust better than Trimble did two years ago.
In 2016-17, Maryland had a school best 20-2 start before the Terps faded to a 24-9 finish that included first-game exits in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. By the end, Trimble seemed uninterested.
The difference is that Trimble had already made his mind up to leave after his junior year, something that doesn’t appear to be (and shouldn’t be) in play with Cowan. He needs to accept the new role and grow with it.