Maryland stars Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz watched from the bench, both in slacks and ties, Maryland’s freshmen class grew up a little more Wednesday night. It was painful at times. Melo Trimble had two Virginia defenders hounding him most of the night. Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens struggled defensively at times, and Michal Cekovsky was limited to just two points and four rebounds after his best college performance on Sunday.
“I was amped,” Wiley said. “I knew there was going to be a lot of people here so I tried not to be nervous.”
Virginia’s defense was as good as advertised in a 76-65 win in College Park, but it was the Cavaliers’ ability to break down Maryland (7-1) on the other end that became a centerpiece in the win. Virginia “looked like a bunch of grown men,” as Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon put it, and it outscored Maryland 36-20 in the paint and outrebounded the Terrapins 34-22.
The Cavaliers’ physical guards, including Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon, combined for 34 points and had their way inside. That was in large part a product of breaking down Maryland’s guards with hard ball-screens and creating space on the interior; of Virginia’s 26 made shots, 18 came in the lane.
Cekovsky finished with three fouls as Maryland’s interior struggled against Virginia, which allowed just three offensive rebounds and got 25 combined points from forward Anthony Gill and center Mike Tobey.
“There were growing pains defensively and physically we just need to toughen up to match their screening and execution,” Turgeon said. “That is really what our new guys struggled with the most.”
The absence of Wells’ physical toughness and versatility on the perimeter remained evident Wednesday, but Turgeon remained calm and patient in his postgame remarks. His young players produced fearless moments to keep the team in the game throughout the loss; Nickens had a key three-pointer in the first half, and Wiley gave the team a spark with two more three-pointers in the first half. Trimble drew double-teams most of the evening, and although he finished 2-of-9, the freshman was aggressive getting to the rim. He finished 12-of-14 from the free throw line.
So much of the team’s success will hinge on the development of the class, especially over the next month with Wells out and Evan Smotrycz potentially missing more time with a lingering left ankle and foot injury. It was important for Maryland to go through an early-season experience against a vicious team like Virginia, Turgeon said, and the team stock in the fact that the freshmen didn’t suffer a meltdown.
Instead they contributed enough to keep Maryland within striking distance for much of the way, and looked more close-knit than last year’s team, according to Virginia Coach Tony Bennett.
“They play together well,” Bennett said. “Obviously without Dez, and without Evan, that affected them…they had a lot of talent last year. They have talent this year. Its young, but I though they looked a little more cohesive.”