Maryland’s 72-69 loss to Kentucky at the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn wasn’t without positives. Despite shoddy backcourt play, porous outside shooting and lapses in late-game execution (fouling Kyle Wiltjer instead of Jarrod Polson and not getting a potential game-tying shot attempt off in time at the end), the Terrapins unrolled a roster that could compete with any team in the ACC at peak performance. We weigh the good with the bad.
Alex Len Has Arrived. Duck and cover, ACC. The league has another stud pivot in the fold. Len was the best player on the floor tonight even in a losing effort, thoroughly outplayed and outworking the more celebrated Nerlens Noel. After a topsy-turvy freshman campaign in which he flashed potential but also seemed overmatched in conference play, the sophomore center seems to have harnessed his skills and figured out his game. Len finished with a commanding double-double, notching 23 points (16 in the first half) while pulling down 12 boards. He also mixed in four blocks.
Maryland Freshman Exploded. There was one major bright spot for the Terps that had nothing to do with the Ukranian star in the middle. The freshmen showed advanced maturity and poise. Even more impressive, the two freshmen who shined the brightest were the least two heralded in Maryland’s stellar incoming recruiting class. Shaquille Cleare and Jake Layman were the two big names in Turgeon’s four-man recruiting class. And both contributed in limited action on Friday—Cleare chipping in a deuce and Layman a trey. Charles Mitchell and Seth Allen were the big performers tonight. The freshman duo provided valuable minutes during Maryland’s second half run, each having a major hand in the Terps turning around what was once a 15-point deficit. Allen and Mitchell delivered in crunch time, Allen with a pair of huge triples and Mitchell with tough rebound after tough rebound (10 in all). If the Terrapins get the production out of their freshmen they got tonight (and the freshmen should improve over the course of the season), Maryland will be one tough cat in the ACC. They just weren’t quite as tough enough for the Cats they faced Friday night.
Where was the backcourt? While one sophomore had a coming out party of sorts, two others were conspicuously absent. Dez Wells, the ex-Xavier transfer whom the NCAA recently cleared to play, shot just 2 of 12 from the floor and looked out of rhythm on the offensive end. Wells had been practicing with the Terps, so you can’t chalk his dud performance up to rust. Nick Faust, who likely Len struggled in his freshman season despite lots of fanfare coming out of high school, carried his rookie struggles with him into Brooklyn. The volume-shooter Faust again took too many ill-advised shots—15 attempts in total—and couldn’t find the touch from downtown.
Pe’Shon Howard’s Return. The oft-injured floor general is returning from two separate injuries from last season—a broken foot which sidelined him for the first month of last season and a torn ACL which cost him the last month. It showed. Howard was clearly not 100-percent, struggling to start and stop, make his cuts and stay in front of his assignment on defense. This is a story to monitor in College Park. Without Howard at full strength, the Terps will see a significant drop-off like they saw without him last year.
Maryland 3-point shooting. Shooting 3 for 19 from long-range is not how you beat Kentucky, though it says a lot about the play of Maryland’s frontcourt that Terps took this game down to the wire despite the dismal shooting display. Tip for next game: don’t miss your first 15 3-point attempts.