By: Eric Myers
With just over eight minutes remaining in the second half, Jalen Smith received a pass at the top of the key, saw an open lane and drove with reckless abandon toward the rim. Waiting in his path was Isaiah Roby to take the offensive foul.
Bruno Fernando was immediately substituted into the game for the freshman big man. Assistant coach Bino Ranson offered quick coaching lessons on Smith’s way to the bench. Ranson’s advice stuck with Smith, who made the game-winning shot to lead Maryland to a 74-72 win over No. 24 Nebraska at the Xfinity Center Wednesday night.
“Coach Bino told me when that charge happened I should have lobbed it up and floated it in the rim. I just remembered that when the guy stepped up again,” Smith said.
Stepping up later in the game, with the result hanging in the balance, was Nebraska forward Issac Copeland who stood as the last line of defense in the Cornhusker’s 1-3-1 zone. Fellow freshman Eric Ayala passed out of a trap at the top to Smith, who took the ball towards the hoop with a measured approach. This time, Smith did not look to initiate contact, and rather floated a shot over Copeland’s outstretched arms.
The offensive foul with eight minutes left in the second half wasn’t the only time that Smith was substituted out and subsequently received an ear full from the coaching staff. Three and a half minutes into the first half, Smith headed to the sideline with head coach Mark Turgeon barking at him imploring for increased effort on the defensive end and in the rebounding department.
“He wasn’t very good early, was he?… I was chewing on him, the assistants were chewing on him, and he responded,” Turgeon said.
Smith’s response was much needed in the second half, when he scored 12 of his 15 points. Smith made 5-of-7 shot attempts in the final 20 minutes, and four of those converted shots gave Maryland a lead in the back-and-forth Big Ten affair.
The win gave Maryland their first victory over a ranked opponent in 1,061 days, snapping a streak of 12 consecutive losses to ranked foes since defeating No. 18 Purdue when Maryland was the 4th-ranked team in the country.
With the narrow win, Maryland’s young roster also showed the ability to win in a tightly contested game. Each of Maryland’s three losses on the season had come by a margin of five points or fewer, a scenario in which they lost all three occasions.
“I wasn’t really looking at the ranking, I was just trying to see… just win a close game,” guard Anthony Cowan said. “Sometimes those games really slipped away from us previously so it was good to have one back today.”
Cowan helped lead the way offensively for Maryland, as the junior team leader finished with 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-7 on 3-pointers, and finishing the game without a turnover for the first time this season, something that Turgeon– a former point guard himself– always appreciates from his guards.
Along with Smith’s strong second half play, Maryland received contributions from their other post phenom in Fernando. The often-times overpowering force inside finished with 18 points and set a new career-high with 17 rebounds.
Fernando, though, seems to relish the opportunity to lead other players on the court and during timeouts more than pointing to his own stat line. This is especially the case with his young frontcourt running mate in Smith.
“We needed a lot more from [Smith],” Fernando said. “I knew he was going to respond because he was focused on the game plan… big time shot that he made at the end, we need more of that and to see him doing that, it was good for us.”