The Maryland basketball team rebounded from a sluggish first half in its lone exhibition game, cruising to a 73-61 victory over Indiana University of Pennsylvania at Comcast Center in the debut test for this new-look roster filled with youth and depth.
Coach Mark Turgeon emerged pleased with the overall effort against one of Division II’s top-ranked teams despite the Terps’ slow start, the disappointment he expressed at Maryland’s execution during his Thursday availability somewhat assuaged.
Granted, next Friday’s season opener vs. Kentucky in Brooklyn presents a far more formidable challenge than the Crimson Hawks, but as senior Logan Aronhalt said, building off a scrimmage becomes much easier when that scrimmage resulted in a win.
Now, for the postgame notes:
>> Turgeon opened with a veteran lineup, starting Pe’Shon Howard and Nick Faust in the back court, Jake Layman on the wing and James Padgett and Alex Len in the post. Maryland, like Turgeon hinted at Thursday, ran its offense through Len in the low post, operating in a four-out system with rotation and weak-side screens, until IUP started collapsing on Len and double-teaming him in the paint.
Len finished with eight points, six rebounds, four blocks and plenty more shots altered. Whenever the Terps pressed, Len sat back as the safety, an imposing final line of defense, and was strong in the paint, though Turgeon felt he got knocked around a little more than he has been in practice.
“At times he was good, with four blocks, and other times he wasn’t so good,” Turgeon said. “He let his offense affect his defense. They were doubling him and I thought, to be quite honest with you, played a little bit softer than he’s been playing. Didn’t rebound the way he’s capable of rebounding. If he’s going to play that many minutes he needs to get more rebounds for us.
“Alex, believe it or not, is still getting used to everything. I know he played last year, but I could even tell in shoot-around he was a little uptight, a little nervous today. He wants to play well. But give them credit, they doubled him, guys all around him all the time. We’ll have to figure out ways other ways to score tonight.”
>> The youth brigade came marching in about six minutes into the evening, when Logan Aronhalt, Charles Mitchell, Shaquille Cleare and Seth Allen subbed out everyone except Faust. After Layman entered for Faust with 12:14 left, Turgeon had four freshman and a transfer on the floor.
Faust, Allen, Mitchell, Howard and Len started the second half. Once Layman subbed out Faust, the Terps began that 9-0 run which put them ahead for good.
>> Speaking of that run…care to handle this one, Crimson Hawks Coach Joe Lombardi?
“They pretty much wore us down. I think they just wore us down. Their execution as the game went on was a little bit better than ours. I think their size under the bucket gave us some trouble, they also made that one run that we could never recover from. They came out and it seemed like they had four threes in a row, they might have only had two but it was probably an eight-point run. I think that got them out of the web a little bit, they played looser after that and weren’t fighting themselves as much.”
Layman and Allen each hit two free throws to give Maryland a 37-36 lead, and then Allen drilled a three-pointer. The Terps withstood a missed three-pointer and an offensive rebound on the other end before Howard canned a jumper and Faust connected from beyond the arc after an Allen steal.
>> Speaking of Allen’s steals – segment segues are working fairly well tonight – the dynamic freshman finished with five. More on this to come tomorrow morning, but flashed speed and great hands in the back court, wreaking havoc on IUP’s sets.
“Defense, Coach always says, you play more when you play defense,” Allen said. “All day in practice, I showed him I can play defense, guard the ball, off the ball. I felt like we played great team defense. If you play defense, you stay on the court longer. That’s where everybody wants their minutes. I just try to play the best defense.”
His offense wasn’t too shabby either: Allen scored a team-high 16 points, including three three-pointers. He was perfect in five attempts from the free throw line and added five assists in 27 minutes.
>> Mitchell was a monster on the boards with 15 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end, and seemed perfectly content with assuming the role of gobbling up errant shots for these Terps.
“That’s my job. I take a lot of pride in it,” Mitchell said. “Rebounding is a game-changing thing. It’s an effort thing. If you rebound hard on the offensive end, you get second-chance points for your team. Just helping my team out, I feel that rebounding is my best attribute.
“We have scorers on our team. I try to make plays, setting screens, back screens, getting assists, looking for my open players. Everybody’s going to score. Everybody’s going to touch the ball. I’m not looking to score.
“I just beat my man to the spot and box them out. If I get more offensive rebounds, that’s second-chance opportunities for my team to score, so why wouldn’t I do it? It’s effort. That’s all it is.”
As if it was so simple. At least Mitchell made it easy.
>> Mitchell’s freshman low-post counterpart, Cleare, had a less-than memorable debut, struggling from the field (0 for 4, plus 0 for 2 on free throws). Turgeon noticed some defensive lapses in the second half, and Cleare was yanked for good with 7:36 left, finishing with a team-low 15 minutes.
“Yeah, Shaq didn’t play well,” Turgeon said. “That’s why he didn’t play a lot. I let him play through five defensive mistakes in the second half, and on the sixth one I got him out. I tried to play him, because I felt comfortable we were going to win the game.”
Turgeon also pointed out Cleare’s missed dunk in the first half, which launched off the back iron. Cleare hung his head while jogging up the court. Maybe it was nerves, Turgeon figured, but don’t read too much into this early performance from Cleare.
“Shaq’s always positive. Always upbeat,” Turgeon said. “That’s the first time I’ve seen him hang his head since he’s been here. It’ll be a learning experience for Shaq, and he’ll play better. Had four rebounds and 15 minutes, was really never in the flow. It’s moving a little quick for him. … Shaq will be fine. He’ll be a great player for us.”
Said Mitchell: “Of course it’s some nerves. People get the jitters out and the bugs out. Shaq is a great player. I know he’s a great player, but it’s going to happen to me some games. I’ll have nervous games too. He’s going to pick it up. I know he is. He’s going to pick it up mentally and physically.”
>> Seven Terps finished with at least seven points, and all except Cleare took at least five shots, backing up Turgeon’s assertion that this Maryland team will feature a far more balanced offense than the Terrell Stoglin-heavy attack of 2011-12.
>> IUP shot zero free throws. Maryland was 16 of 20 from the line, including 12 of 13 in the second half.
“Them not shooting a free throw? It was part us playing smarter, and part them,” Turgeon said. “I thought we did a good job, for the most part, of playing smart defense.”
>> Now the attention turns to Kentucky. At least, the media’s attention will. Maryland will wait until the middle of next week to start game-planning for Coach John Calipari and the Wildcats.
“We won’t focus on Kentucky until Wednesday. We’ll work on us,” Turgeon said. “That’s more important right now. Kentucky’s just one game. We’ll really work on us hard. We might do a little bit on them Wednesday, a lot on Thursday then the shoot-around on Friday. It’ll be fun. Big stage. You want to be on the big stage. It’s good to be there. We’ll be ready. Hopefully our guys will dial in and practice a little better this week because we have Kentucky coming up.”