About seven minutes into the first half of Maryland men's basketball's 74-70 loss at Penn State on Wednesday, guard Jared Nickens gathered and took an off-balance, fadeaway 10-footer from a tight angle.
It was a contested shot, and a rare attempt for Nickens, who entered the game averaging fewer than one two-point attempt per game.
Yet as the senior tried to stop his momentum from carrying him out of bounds, the high-arching shot swished through for Nickens' first points of the game. It was a telling sign that the Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, native's stroke was working.
Nickens finished with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, a bright spot for a team that's struggled to find consistent scoring outside of guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter. He'll look to continue that role when Maryland plays Northwestern at Xfinity Center on Saturday afternoon.
"It's Jared's senior year," Huerter said. "I'm sure there were times in his career he wished he got more minutes, but at this point he's making the most of it."
Nickens hasn't recreated the success he enjoyed his freshman season, when he started nine games and averaged 6.1 points on 1.6 3-pointers per game.
He's earned just three starts since and, until this year, he hadn't matched his freshman 3-point shooting percentage (.390). But Nickens is making 44 percent of his triples this campaign and averaging 5.6 points per game, not far from his freshman output despite less playing time.
Before the Penn State game, coach Mark Turgeon said his team's lack of quality depth leads to significant uncertainty. Cowan, Huerter and forward Bruno Fernando will almost always be on the court at the end of games, he said, but the last two players are a tossup.
"It's just figuring out who's going to play well," Turgeon said Tuesday. "Whoever's playing well might finish the game for us."
Wednesday, Nickens earned one of those last spots. He scored eight points on his first five shots of the second half.
His final points were likely his most important. After Penn State blocked his 3-point attempt earlier in the possession, he got himself open and knocked down his third 3-pointer of the game to cut Penn State's lead to three points with 1:13 remaining.
"He realizes we're starting to get to the tail end of our season, so he has to play well for us to be good," Huerter said. "He's done that."
But the Terps never scored again after Nickens brought them within one possession. His final shot came with six seconds left, a well-defended and off-target attempt that was the payoff from a disorganized possession that doomed the Terps to a sixth consecutive road loss and prevented Nickens from fully enjoying his performance.
"I just try to win every game," Nickens said. "I just want to be one of the most winning players at this university. So that's what I focus on."