By Demetrius Dillard
Special to The Sentinel
COLLEGE PARK — The University of Maryland men’s basketball team came into a matchup against Radford University hoping to conclude its regular season non-conference schedule on a high note, and the Terrapins did just that.
Maryland forward Bruno Fernando played a pivotal role with team-highs of 19 points and 12 rebounds as the Terps engineered a 31-point turnaround to defeat Radford, 78-64, at Xfinity Center on Dec. 29.
“Obviously I was really proud of our group tonight,” Maryland Head Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We started really slow, they started hot and then we really defended for a long time – till about the six-minute mark. We protected the rim well, really grew up, had more depth.”
Maryland began the night cold, unable to make shots from long range as the Highlanders sprinted out to a 19-10 point lead in the first seven minutes of the first half.
However, Eric Ayala’s layup with 13:11 to go created a momentum shift, which fortunately continued into the latter half of the game for the Terrapins.
The Terps went on to close the first half on a 24-13 scoring run to take a 34-32 lead heading into the locker room. Radford regained the lead briefly early on in the second half, but the Terps responded with lockdown perimeter defense and splendid outside shooting to jump out to a 70-48 lead with 7:11 remaining.
In the closing moments of the game, Radford made a futile attempt at a comeback rally, but Maryland had built a decent enough lead to seal the win, a bounce-back victory from the tough loss to Seton Hall on Dec. 22.
Fernando, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, shared what he thought to be the value of the comeback win over Radford.
“It was extremely important. I think it helped us grow and learn,” Fernando said.
“Also I think it helped us being confident in ourselves and knowing we are capable of doing anything we put our minds to…being able to come back in the second half and focus on defense, and get a lot of stops…We can do great as long as we focus on doing the things Coach is asking us to do.”
The athletic big man shot 7-of-9 from the free throw line and grabbed four offensive boards to help the Terps outscore the Highlanders 13-7 on second-chance points.
Turgeon acknowledged his team’s growing confidence and Fernando’s ability to make plays while being double-teamed, who came up big for the Terps with Jalen Smith’s absence.
“We’re getting more confident as a group, and we’re just getting better. You know, we rebounded well in the game, we executed. Bruno was terrific against the double team, and that was really the difference,” he said.
While the Terps may have a few regrettable losses on the year to teams Maryland players could have beaten, they feel that dwelling on the past and getting too concerned about where they stand record-wise may hinder future progress.
Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell said discipline on the defensive end was the game-changer for UMD in the second half.
“The older guys kind of got the team together and told them,’We gotta change our mentality,’” said Morsell, who finished with 13 points for the Terps.
“We’re a team who has to be a defensive-minded team to be successful. So we kind of just changed our mindset, and got stops.”
The Highlanders drop to 7-6 while UMD improves to 10-3.
“I thought we came ready to play. We came out strong,” Radford Head Coach Mike Jones said.
“Unfortunately we have a couple of scoring droughts in the first half which prevented us from having the lead at halftime. And then we had another one in the second half, but a lot of credit goes to them. I thought they executed very well against our post trap on the big fella (Fernando). He kicked it out, and those guys knocked down shots.”
Radford guard Carlik Jones had 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds to lead his team. Also for the Highlanders Travis Fields, Jr. nailed 4-of-5 jumpers from beyond the arc to finish with a game-high 22 points.
“We just wanted to come in and play hard a full 40 minutes,” Jones said after the loss.
“I know first half we got an early lead. We let up a little bit, and they got back in the game…The midst of the second half when they made another run, I feel like we kind of laid down. We weren’t ourselves. But then, toward the end we kind of tried to fight back, and by the time we fought back it was too late.”
Jones, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, said Fernando’s inside presence had an immense impact on Radford’s ability to score on drives, preventing a lot of would-be easy scoring opportunities for the Highlanders. Jones expressed identical sentiments.
“We had some opportunities to make shots, and we didn’t. A lot of it had to do with Bruno inside, you know, affecting some of our shots in close,” Jones said.
“But when a Big Ten team on their home floor you’re not going to get open looks all the time. They’re athletic enough to recover, so they made it hard on us.”
Maryland committed 15 turnovers to Radford’s eight, but won the rebounding battle, 43-28, and made 21 of 25 free throws while the Highlanders were only 4 of 8.
Maryland will host Nebraska at the Xfinity Center on Jan. 2 at 6:30 p.m. to begin the new year with a Big Ten conference schedule opener.