Silence fell on the Barclays Center media room as three Terrapins trudged in, sitting behind microphones and a table, quietly reflecting on an upset that just got away. It was the aural antithesis of the raucous crowd that minutes earlier stuffed the Brooklyn arena to capacity, roughly half-Maryland and half-Kentucky, imbuing it with energy and sound.
The Wildcats eventually pulled away late for a 72-69 win, showing what Coach Mark Turgeon later called “national championship pride.” But the Terps’ spirited second-half comeback was equally prideful, boding well for a young group that, even in a loss, turned heads on the national stage.
Such an electric atmosphere, however, will be difficult to find moving forward, at least until conference play tips off on Jan. 5. Maryland hosts four straight games in conjunction with the Barclays Center Classic, moving from the bright lights of Brooklyn to the cozy confines of Comcast Center, where mid-majors Morehead State and LIU-Brooklyn await this week.
It’s not exactly third-ranked Kentucky and Coach John Calipari sitting on the other bench, but Turgeon sees no problem in redirecting the adrenaline rush and thrill brought about by playing in an NBA arena into a lower-profiled challenge.
“Well we lost, so it’s pretty easy,” Turgeon said during a Sunday teleconference. “If we had won, it might have been a little difficult. It’s pretty easy to get their attention. We’ve been practicing twice a day to prepare for Morehead State. It’s pretty easy to do. Hopefully we’ll have a good crowd tomorrow night, bring energy and play inspired also.”
Inspired is about right. Maryland’s rally took them from a 13-point halftime deficit to a lead late in the game, falling just short as the Wildcats controlled loose balls and hit free throws. After the game, Turgeon said his Terps “fully expected to win the game.”
“It was electric in there, so it was pretty easy to play inspired,” Turgeon said. “I was pleased. I thought our young guys grew up in the second half, really competed. It was a fun environment. That’s why you come to Maryland. The more we can get on that stage, the better it’ll be for our program.”
Such a time seems well within reach for this young group that rotated four freshmen and three sophomores against Kentucky, but it begins at home during the nonconference slate. Morehead State, winners of Friday’s opening act against LIU-Brooklyn, 77-74, at Barclays, is first up. Forwards Milton Chavis and Khalil Owens, 6 feet 7 and 6-6, respectively, combined for 36 points and 16 rebounds for the Eagles and figure to challenge the Terps inside during Monday’s home opener at 8 p.m.
Waiting in the paint for Maryland will be Alex Len, whose team- and career-high 23 points and 12 rebounds against the Wildcats stole the stage from the defending champions, earning even more adoration from the crowing crowd, more than enough for Turgeon to briefly tear himself away from the disappointment to marvel at the sight during his postgame media availability.
“Wasn’t that just awesome out there?” he said. “If tonight did anything, it energized our fan base. Fans showed up last year for the Duke game and the Carolina game, but everything else was people showing up to show up. Tonight they showed up and they were energized, and they were excited about our team and that was big for us.”
8 p.m., Comcast Sports Net, WTEM (980 AM)