Depth will be a virtue for this Maryland men’s basketball team, an unfamiliar luxury for Coach Mark Turgeon and his Terrapins; they can shuttle players to the scorer’s table like a hockey line change.
After the heart-thumping adrenaline injection from Friday’s three-point loss against Kentucky in Brooklyn, Maryland took care of business against visiting Morehead State. The Terrapins received points from 10 players in their home opener despite no player attempting more than seven shots.
At times Turgeon glanced down his bench, pondering whether to break up the on-court chemistry to keep others fresh. But it’s a good problem to have. Running 10 deep affords the ability to endure such droughts from a roster that regularly rotates four freshmen and three sophomores.
The Terrapins committed 20 turnovers, missed dunks and booted away loose balls, trading second-half baskets for some time with the Eagles, yet none of that mattered.
“The hardest thing for me, I was trying to figure out how to get guys in the game,” Turgeon said. “It’s a luxury. We had a lineup that was really playing well, because we were up 22. Big game, I might not do that, but we had a lineup that was really playing well and I subbed four of them out. It’s a luxury to find.”
Turgeon’s players reiterated the same team-first mentality, eschewing big minutes for a big win. After winning just one nonconference game by double digits last season, Turgeon admittedly softened the slate before ACC play.
Facing mid-majors like Morehead State comes with a built-in buffer, an opportunity for building confidence while growing through experience.
And so these talented Terrapins can adjust on the fly. They can pound the ball inside and can focus on transition. And on Monday, they tied their largest margin of victory from last season.
“It’s great, you don’t have to overexert yourself trying to shoulder a load of minutes,” forward Dez Wells said. “We have great guys who can come off the bench and provide really good support for us. . . . Our bench could start at any college team. They’re that good.”
Before it caught them wheezing from exhaustion at Maryland’s depth, Morehead State ran into early trouble with its pressure perimeter defense coupled with a collapsing frontcourt.
Aggressively fronting Len, who stole the spotlight by dropping a 23-point, 12-rebound performance on third-ranked Kentucky, turned into fouls and consequently 22 free-throw attempts.
Maryland’s last nine points of the first half came from the free-throw line; Morehead State entered the break with just five more points (19) than fouls (14).
Maryland withstood a scoreless stretch of 4 minutes 32 seconds the only way possible: The Eagles didn’t make a field goal for more than five minutes during that span.
Turgeon kept fresh bodies in the game and it allowed Maryland to expand the lead. Maryland didn’t have a defining, back-breaking run, yet entered halftime with a 16-point lead.
“I know it’s a good feeling for coach,” Faust said. “We have a lot of players who can do a lot for the team. We definitely have depth this year. It keeps us honest on the floor. You have to go 100 percent every play. Their point guard played 19 minutes [in the first half], so the second half he was definitely done for.”
Wells finished with eight points in his home debut since transferring from Xavier this offseason, including a Superman-like slam off a high feed from Pe’Shon Howard in transition. The high-flier snatched the pass behind his head, cocked back and deposited a thunderous slam that sent 8,724 fans screaming in delight and put the Terps up 16-7.
Shaquille Cleare, perhaps Maryland’s most-prized freshman, played just 22 total minutes during the exhibition against Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the season opener.
On Monday, he finished with eight points and three monstrous rejections into the Comcast Center stands that had the fans ducking for cover.
Turgeon expressed no concerns of a potential letdown after the Kentucky game, not following a loss he felt his team let slip away.
But he’s seen massive improvements since the exhibition. Maryland (1-1) shot 48.9 percent from the field against the Eagles (1-1), and held them to less than 50 points. The team defense, Turgeon said, is still not near where it needs to be, but that’s a scary thought given how exhausted Morehead State seemed after opening the second half with a furious run that Maryland withstood.
As his teammates emptied out of the Comcast Center media room, Wells stood behind a table, hunched over a box score, checking out the night’s statistics. His eyes glanced over to the last column on the spreadsheet. “The minutes are so spread out,” Wells muttered, to no one in particular. “That’s good.”