CHICAGO — Ten minutes into another one-and-done Maryland men’s basketball letdown in the Big Ten tournament, forward Bruno Fernando told coach Mark Turgeon to call a play for him.
“I gotta get the ball,” he said.
More than halfway through the first half, the NBA hopeful hadn’t yet attempted a shot. Sure enough, the next time the Terps were in a half-court set, Fernando got multiple touches. But the possession ended when his hook shot clanked off the rim.
Nebraska double-teamed Fernando into oblivion during the Huskers’ 69-61 win, holding the Terps’ second-leading scorer to a season-low three points on four attempts while forcing the Angolan into three turnovers and allowing him just one assist.
“We just wanted to aggravate him as much as possible. Just make him play in a crowd,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “We had to get to Bruno, and we did.”
With about six minutes left before halftime, Fernando was alone beyond the three-point line and took a step in for a rare mid-range jumper. He missed, and a swarm of Cornhuskers were there for the defensive rebound. When Fernando was subbed out shortly after, he lamented how the crowded paint made it so there was “nowhere to drive.”
Fernando’s lone points of the game came on an and-one with about a minute left in the first half. Thursday was just the third game all year he took just four shots, and the first when he wasn’t battling serious foul trouble.
In the locker room following the loss, though, Fernando said he doesn’t fret about how many shots he takes, even in a game when he scored less than half of his previous season low.
“I knew the defensive plan they would have on me. Obviously, they would try to double-team me every time I catch the ball,” Fernando said. “My mentality was just trying to get my teammates involved every time. Pass the ball and see if we got open shots.”
In most games this season, that’s worked.
It didn’t take long for Maryland opponents to realize Fernando had made a leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons, so he’s faced double-teams nearly all year. After a short adjustment period, Fernando has become an efficient and effective passer, increasing his assist total from 21 as a freshman to 63 this year.
On Thursday, though, Fernando struggled to find his teammates.
“He’s one of the best big men in the country, so when he’s struggling, it’s kind of tough for the rest of us,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “But we’ve played games where Bruno was in foul trouble and we played well. We’ve practiced without Bruno.”
The Huskers’ brand of double-teaming was perhaps more tenacious than other teams’, as Miles had his defense constantly trap at the block rather than employing the tactic occasionally.
And though Nebraska is extremely depleted, it hasn’t lost much of its length. Of the seven players the Huskers have used in each of their Big Ten tournament games, five are at least 6-foot-6.
“They doubled Bruno hard. They sent big guys at him,” guard Eric Ayala said. “They knew our offense runs through Bruno, and he’s still learning. He’s still adjusting. He’s a great player, it was just one of those days.”
Fernando wasn’t alone in that, though. After the game, Miles said the aggressive gameplan on Fernando meant his team “really [ran] some risk,” and he was worried that guard Anthony Cowan would take advantage.
It wouldn’t have been the first time a team had to ease off on doubling Fernando midway through a game.
But Cowan had just one shot before halftime, and Maryland went 7-for-24 from the field in the opening 20 minutes, with forward Jalen Smith taking one-third of those shots. Without being able to rely on Fernando, the Terps could never find consistency on offense, and their Big Ten tournament run was over before it started.
“They doubled him every time. We didn’t make them pay for what they were doing, and that was the disappointing thing,” Turgeon said. “But we had a lot of guys, a lot of coaches, a lot of people that didn’t do well today. That’s why we lost.”