With ACC play just around the corner, the Maryland men’s basketball team’s recent nonconference games have served more as an audition than an actual test, and Coach Mark Turgeon entered Saturday afternoon’s game against Delaware State still tinkering with the rotation.
The Terrapins’ 79-50 win at Comcast Center provided a refreshing reminder of the team’s top-to-bottom potential. Maryland’s reserves outscored the Hornets’ bench by 37 points, and the Terrapins (11-1) poured in a season-high 58 points in the paint. Freshman Charles Mitchell, whose lack of playing time in recent weeks had made the 6-foot-9 forward slightly out of shape, had 19 points and 14 rebounds, both career highs.
With center Alex Len slogging through arguably his worst game this season with six points, two rebounds and four fouls in 17 minutes, the freshmen stole the show. Seth Allen and Jake Layman combined for 17 points. Shaquille Cleare hit all three of his field goal attempts. And Mitchell was a one-man vacuum, dominating inside against undersize Delaware State (5-8), making 8 of 12 field goal attempts.
“I’m not surprised. He’s amazing,” Allen said. “He works so hard in practice. He’s getting better every day, you can tell. That’s what Chuck did out there, giving all those rebounds, second-chance points, he really helped us on the boards. Without Chuck, I don’t think we would have out-rebounded them.”
The Terps have one final tuneup against IUPUI on New Year’s Day before hosting Virginia Tech on Saturday. Turgeon’s starting rotation now seems all but locked down — Len, James Padgett, Dez Wells, Pe’Shon Howard and Nick Faust have started in 10 of Maryland’s 12 games this season — but bench minutes remain in flux.
Performances like Saturday’s could either cloud the situation or bolster Turgeon’s confidence. Maryland traded blows for the opening 10 minutes, unable to crack Delaware State’s sagging zone defense, but opened up a 17-0 run after trailing 16-15 with 9 minutes 31 seconds left.
Playing with “a sense of urgency,” in Turgeon’s words, the Terps cruised in just their third game of the last 17 days.
“We’re coming. We’ve practiced so well,” Turgeon said. “The break was great. We needed a break. We’ve been so hard on them since June. I think it really helped us. We also know what lies ahead next Saturday. We’re real excited for that, looking forward to it. I think you see a little sense of urgency for us. We really executed well.”
Against Delaware State’s low-tempo scheme, Wells added 10 points, including a thunderous one-handed slam that brought 12,389 Comcast Center fans to their feet.
“We didn’t like the way the South Carolina State game went. They dictated the whole game,” Wells said, referring to the Dec. 8 game when a lesser opponent also tried to dictate the tempo. “We decided to go out, press a little bit, speed it up so we could have some fun too. It’s no fun just walking the ball up the court. We wanted to dictate this game and we did a good job of it.”
Maryland shot 56.9 percent, making over half its shots for the third straight game. Wells finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, four assists and two steals. Howard added six assists and six points, including two coast-to-coast layups in transition.
“We really executed,” Allen said. “We ran our sets almost perfect. Set good screens, got a lot of open shots.”
The Terps never trailed again after that defining run, expanding the lead to 31 points with 44 seconds left after another Mitchell tip-in. After the game, as Turgeon approached the lectern in the media room, his opening words doubled as a suitable summary for Maryland’s tidy victory.
“I want to get home,” he said. “So let’s make this quick.”