As one of the Maryland men's basketball team's most enthusiastic players, forward Bruno Fernando has often thrown three fingers in the air after a teammate's 3-pointer, trying to energize the crowd and team.
But when the 6-foot-9 Angolan retreated down the court with both hands up midway through the second half Saturday against Rutgers, it was in celebration of his own long-range bucket. He'd missed his only two career attempts beyond the arc before that shot.
The freshman's connection was part of his game-high 18 points and 16 rebounds, powering the Terps to a 61-51 win over the Scarlet Knights and continuing the late-season surge he's enjoyed in his rookie campaign.
"It's just confidence and staying out of foul trouble," coach Mark Turgeon said of Fernando's recent production. "He's always been good."
In his last six games, Fernando is averaging 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in 28.7 minutes. He averaged just 20.3 minutes in his first 21 games.
Fernando's biggest highlight Saturday came with six-and-a-half minutes left in the first half, when he threw down a one-handed alley-oop over Rutgers guard Corey Sanders for perhaps the most ferocious dunk of Maryland's season.
"I know Bruno's so athletic that no guard in the country could really jump with him," said guard Darryl Morsell, who threw the inbound lob. "I just threw it up, and he went and got it. It was all him."
That score put Maryland up 21-12. The Terps (18-11, 7-9 Big Ten) began the game on a 10-0 run capped by another Fernando dunk, forcing Rutgers (13-16, 3-13) to call timeout and setting the tone for Maryland's dominant performance.
The Terps led by as many as 14 in the first half and entered halftime up 31-19. Maryland opened the second half on another 10-0 run and had a 24-point lead with 14:39 remaining. Rutgers cut the deficit to single digits with 4:03 to play and came as close as seven but never seriously threatened Maryland's lead.
"We get better every game. [We're] doing some really good things out there," Turgeon said. "[Rutgers] figured out our double teams and were much more efficient late in the game."
Rutgers couldn't stop Fernando, though. He shot 8-for-9 from the field and a notable 1-for-1 from beyond the arc.
The rookie's strong stretch began Jan. 31 at Purdue, when he guarded vaunted Boilermakers center Isaac Haas and played the final 7:27 with four fouls. Fernando scored 10 of his 20 points in the last six minutes and added 10 rebounds for a double-double.
That game, Turgeon said Friday, showed that Fernando's jumper will develop to be a useful weapon in his career. He's been working on extending his range in practice, which would present a new element for opposing defenses to gameplan for.
"That [3-pointer] was like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Fernando said. "I had to get it."
Fernando had that chance because he avoided fouls while center Michal Cekovsky accumulated four in 10 minutes. Morsell said the team is "constantly" in Fernando's ear about avoiding whistles, and recently it has paid off.
"At the beginning of the year, he was a freshman, he was still learning," Morsell said. "He sort of learned what not to do and what he can get away with."
Despite Turgeon saying Fernando has made "huge strides" in recent weeks, the eighth-year head coach still has been tough on him in film sessions, he said. That made Saturday's performance even more gratifying.
"We couldn't do anything with Fernando," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. "He's a monster."