BROOKLYN — Tested beneath the bright lights of the Barclays Center, the first true run of the Maryland men’s basketball team’s experiment at point guard left them with more questions than answers.
The Terrapins suspected as much when Seth Allen awkwardly landed on his left foot at practice during October’s final week. The broken fifth metatarsal bone, which connects to the pinkie toe, required immediate surgery and will sideline the starting point guard until early January. With the opener eight days away, Maryland had little choice but to move Dez Wells from his natural spot on the wing to floor general. Freshman Roddy Peters hadn’t handled preseason pressure well, Coach Mark Turgeon said. It was the only move to make.
During a 78-77 loss here Friday night, the 18th-ranked Huskies hounded Wells and Peters into nine turnovers, 69 percent of Maryland’s total giveaways. For a duo with almost no college point guard experience, facing Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier was akin to asking a new pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic.
“It’s my first full game playing the point guard position. I’m sorry if anybody thought I was going to come in and be Trey Burke or a natural point guard,” Wells said, sounding genuinely apologetic when referring to the former University of Michigan star who led the Wolverines to the Final Four last season. “That’s not me. I just wanted to do what I could for my team to get the win for us.”
After committing 109 turnovers last season, his first in College Park since transferring to Xavier, Wells handed six away against Connecticut, four by halftime. Two of those, however, could easily be disputed — center Shaquille Cleare should have better handled a post-entry pass and a poor inbounds pass by Evan Smotrycz led to Wells’s fourth turnover in the first nine minutes — but the overall takeaway stands: As Connecticut’s pressure affected Maryland more and more, the lead climbed higher and higher.
“They’re good defenders,” Wells said. “They stole the ball from me a couple times and caused a couple deflections, but those are things that can be corrected. I can watch film, as soon as we get on the bus. It’s still looking up for us.”
Perhaps, if only by virtue of easier teams appearing on the horizon. Until the new year, Maryland can at most face two teams ranked in the top 40 according to Kenpom.com – Ohio State and potentially Providence, provided the bracket bounces the right way at the Paradise Jam. But Allen’s injury created a domino effect on both sides, one that might be masked through superior talent down the road, but was exposed by Connecticut.
“It comes with the territory,” said Wells, who finished with 13 points but missed two potential game-winning shots within the final 14 seconds. “That’s life. Things won’t always be in your favor. You have to make adjustments for the best for the people around you. I had to make adjustments, I had to do things, pick up certain instincts and certain abilities that I wasn’t normally doing in a regular game with the absence of Seth. But that’s life. You have to make change and adjustments as you go along. Life’s not going to stop for anybody. We were one shot short and I’ll take that into the next game.”
After Wells was credited with two turnovers on Maryland’s first four possessions, fans on Twitter already began clamoring for Peters, the shy four-star recruit from Suitland High School. Peters brought forth a mixed bag in his college debut, scoring five points, swiping two steals and dealing two assists, but twice tried to dribble through several defenders and had his pocket picked. It was a young, eager move reminiscent of Allen’s freshman season last winter.
“Roddy played more in the second half and played well,” Turgeon said. “Roddy’s first college game in that environment, 18 minutes, had a couple turnovers but made some nice passes too. We were just trying to figure it out. We still are.”
Towards the end of his postgame news conference, which began with a deep sigh and an “Oh, boy,” Turgeon casually mentioned that Maryland would “get Seth back by the first of the year.” Perhaps the third-year coach was being overly optimistic; the 10-week recovery timetable doesn’t project Allen back until the second week of 2014. Or perhaps Turgeon was thinking about how much his team could have used Allen on Friday night, and how the day he returns cannot arrive soon enough.