Indiana and Maryland square off in a “diaper dandy” of a Big Ten matchup tonight.
Hoosiers standout frosh Romeo Langford will share the floor with another big-time freshman, and several other first-year Terrapins making themselves known around the league, when No. 22 Indiana (12-3, 3-1) visits Maryland (13-3, 4-1) at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Md. Six-foot-10 Jalen Smith is off to a big start in January, averaging over 17 points and six rebounds for the Terps. He started 2019 with a game-winning shot against No. 24 Nebraska last Wednesday.
Smith is a big key for the Terrapins and he’s got a monster of a partner in the paint in 6-10 sophomore Bruno Fernando, who has had rebounding performances of 17 and 16 on his way to ranking third in the league at 10.1 per game.
“Yeah, I would say the two things that are very concerning is their inside attack on offense — they have the ability to go to two guys, not just one — and rebounding,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “They’re plus-10 on the glass right now, I think, through their Big Ten games. It’s one of their greatest strengths, is their ability to offensive rebound and their ability to keep you off the glass.”
As action tips off (7 p.m., FS1), Terps coach Mark Turgeon has several other freshmen in addition to Smith to fear. Maryland is one of the youngest teams in the nation, with the freshmen accounting for 45 percent of the team’s scoring.
Eric Ayala, a 6-5 freshman guard, has been in the starting lineup since the third game of the season and is posting a 10.6 scoring average in his past six games. Ayala is hitting 48 percent from 3-point range and Aaron Wiggins, a 6-6 freshman guard, has hit 40.8 percent from long range. They’ve combined for nearly half the team’s made 3-pointers.
“I think they’re the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the league right now in league games, and they don’t take a ton, but they take good ones,” Miller said. “Anthony Cowan, he’s really, really good, and Eric Ayala, as a freshman, is really good, [as well as] Wiggins off the bench shooting the three. So they’ve got a lot of different things that they’re doing well.”
Cowan, a 6-0 junior guard, leads the team in scoring at 17.2 points per game and he’s been even better during the Terrapins 4-1 start in Big Ten play. He had 23 of his 27 in the second half of a 82-67 victory at Minnesota on Tuesday.
“I think they’re coming together at the right time,” Miller said. “That Minnesota win was obviously very, very impressive, but what stands out the most is obviously their ability to hammer the ball inside and their ability to pound the glass, and those are two big concerns.”
Injuries are also a concern for IU. Freshman point guard Rob Phinisee, averaging 7.2 points and 3.6 assists, is unlikely to rejoin the lineup for the Hoosiers. He’s been out of the lineup the past three games after suffering a concussion Dec. 19 against Central Arkansas.
“As of right now, he’s not,” Miller said Thursday. “He’s continuing to, I guess, further along some of the stuff that he’s doing on a daily basis. He hasn’t had any setbacks. I’m encouraged to watch him participate more in practice, but he has not been cleared to do anything full contact yet, and he’ll have another day today where, hopefully, we can get him moving in the right direction. But as of right now, there’s no indication he’ll play for us on Friday.”
That’s meant more ball-handling duties for Langford, who is averaging 20.5 points in IU’s four Big Ten games. Langford was added to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 Watch List on Wednesday.
“Yeah, without question. I mean, Romeo is a primary ball-handler for us,” Miller said. “We were leaning in this direction here for a few weeks leading into Christmas, and leading out, and we’re going to continue to find ways to put the ball in his hands and do different things because obviously he’s a tough cover. The more he has opportunities to play in space, the better off our team will be, because he’s a willing passer, but he also has the ability to get to the basket. But without question, he’ll continue to see a lot of opportunities.”