The Maryland Terrapins take to the court for the first time in this year’s Big Ten tournament when they face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a second-round matchup Thursday at 2:55pm.
Mark Turgeon’s Terps (22-9, 13-7 Big Ten) were the beneficiary of a first round bye thanks to earning the fifth seed in the conference. Nebraska (17-15, 6-14) had to play in the opening round of the tournament on Wednesday night against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The Cornhuskers picked up a 68-61 win behind a career-high 34 points from senior James Palmer Jr.
At this point in the season, Nebraska has been decimated by injury. They currently only have six scholarship players on their roster and four of their five starters played over 33 minutes last night in the win over the Scarlet Knights. They have lost 11 of their last 15 games overall but have won two straight.
They are led by the aforementioned Palmer Jr. who was named Third Team All Big Ten. He finished the season averaging 19.6 points-per-game with four rebounds and three assists. He has been red hot the last three games, averaging a shade over 30 points per game in what has been the best stretch of his season.
The two other big threats for the Huskers are Junior Forward Isaiah Roby and Senior Guard Glynn Watson Jr. Roby averages 11.4 points a game along with 7.1 rebounds-per-contest. He struggled mightily against Rutgers, going 3-for-12 with 10 points and six boards while Watson Jr. also struggled, going 4-for-14 with 11 points and five assists.
Turgeon’s club has shown the ability to go eight players deep and maintain quality throughout their lineup. They are led by Sophomore Center Bruno Fernando who was named First Team All Big Ten earlier this week. Fernando has been a beast in his second season with the Terps, averaging 14.5 points and pitching in 10.5 rebounds-per -game. Fernando also has 20 double doubles on the year, ranking him tied for seventh in the country and second in the Big Ten.
Junior Guard Anthony Cowan Jr received Second Team All Big Ten honors this week as well. Cowan averages 15.9 points-per-game and chips in four assists and nearly four rebounds a night. He is the measuring stick as far as what kind of day Maryland is going have. When Cowan brings his A game and proves ready to play, the Terps can be a tough out.
Other prominent Terps to keep an eye on are Freshmen Jalen Smith, Eric Ayala, and Aaron Wiggins who round out the top five Terps leading scorers. Smith, the Mount St. Joseph’s graduate, was the 10th-ranked recruit last season and has had an up and down first season in College Park. Smith averages 11.5 points and 6.7 boards. Ayala and Wiggins have been spark plugs for the Terps, both chipping in 8.4 points-per-game. Ayala is also seventh in the Big Ten in three-point shooting at 42.5%.
The Terps swept the two meetings during the Big Ten season against Nebraska with a 74-72 win over the Cornhuskers in College Park on 1/2/2019 and a 60-45 win in Lincoln. Palmer Jr had a big night in the first contest. He tallied 26 points and seven boards but was held in check in the second meeting, being held to 12 points on 2-for-13 shooting.
Fernando has dominated both contests against Nebraska, going for 18 points and 17 boards in game one and 13 points and 19 boards in the second matchup. Cowan Jr. was the leading scorer in the first matchup with 19 and Smith was the high man with 18 in Lincoln.
A date with fourth-seeded Wisconsin awaits the winner in the quarterfinals of the tournament which will start tomorrow. The Terps shouldn’t overlook Nebraska, but it would be a misstep if they were to fall short on Thursday. As of this morning, Joe Lunardi has the 21st-ranked Terrapins pegged for a five seed in the Midwest region. That seeding would certainly suffer with a loss to the undermanned Cornhuskers.
Getting past Nebraska is step one in what could be a key tournament for the Terps in terms of improving their seeding heading into the NCAA Tournament which gets underway next week.
Give me the Terps 68-57 as they pull away late.
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