Welcome back to Morning Shootaround, which will be a regular feature this season the day after Maryland basketball games. While we can’t bring you into the Terps’ locker room after games – reporters haven’t been allowed in there since the last couple of years under Gary Williams – we will recap what was said in the press conference afterward by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players. We will give some of our own insight into what transpired on the court during the previous night’s game and what the Terps will be working on at practice looking ahead to their next game.
Game 1: Kentucky 72, Maryland 69 @ The Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y
As much as Turgeon hates to lose, the Terps at least gave notice that they should be solidly entrenched in the top half of the ACC this season. They came back from a nervous start that resulted in a 15-point deficit and nearly beat the defending national champions, albeit a team that had not returned a single starter.
The Terps didn’t get beat by any of John Calipari’s high-profile recruits, but by former walk-on point guard, Jarrod Polson, who Turgeon said was not even mentioned in the scouting report. “When he subbed in the game, I asked ‘Who’s that?’” Turgeon said after Polson scored three more points against Maryland (10) than he did all of last season.
** Still replaying the last frantic moments of that wild 2012-13 season opener in your mind? I’m sure Turgeon has been up for a few hours already, wondering why Pe’Shon Howard didn’t get the ball to a wide-open Logan Aronhalt on the left wing. Aronhalt, who was brought in as a one-year transfer from Albany mostly for his ability to hit 3s, was inserted just for that purpose after the last timeout.
I was actually surprised that Howard was in the game given the fact that he isn’t a 3-point shooter and was 1-for-7 before that shot, the only make coming on a little tear-drop move in the second half. As he took the last shot, I knew it wasn’t the play Turgeon had drawn up, given the Terps had 7.7 seconds left after taking the ball out.
The risk of taking any kind of shot in traffic, let alone a 3-pointer to tie over 6-10 Nerlens Noel, is a not high-percentage move. Again, it speaks to Howard wanting to be the hero rather than the guy who makes the smart pass. It had shades of a Terrell Stoglin moment. There’s no guarantee Aronhalt makes the shot, but I would rather lose the game after missing a wide-open 3 rather than what Howard tried.
** Alex Len put his name in the NBA Draft lottery discussion. Just as a relatively unknown freshman named Joe Smith introduced himself to the country by badly outplaying preseason All-American candidate Othella Harrington in Maryland’s upset of then highly ranked Georgetown in the 1993 opener at US AirArena, Len had a similar coming-out party by badly outclassing Noel, the most celebrated member of Kentucky’s freshman class.
If Noel is expected to be another of John Calipari’s one-and-done lottery picks next spring, what does that make Len? The 7-1 sophomore from the Ukraine finished with 23 points, 12 points and 4 blocked shots and showed much stronger hands, great body control around the basket and the ability to finish at the rim.
“I feel much more comfortable,” Len said after shooting 10 of 18 from the field. “I got a little bit stronger over the summer and I worked really hard to put on some weight and it helped me. It was special to play against Nerlens. He is one of the best big men in the country.”
Said Turgeon, “I am very proud of Alex.”
I take back everything I said about Len after a mostly disinterested performance in Maryland’s exhibition game victory over Division II Indiana (Pa.). Turgeon and Terps fans can officially now start fretting about whether Len will be around for his junior year.
The flip side of that discussion surrounds Shaquille Cleare. The top recruit in Turgeon’s first big recruiting class looks a bit lost by the speed and athleticism of the college game. Turgeon tried to dismiss Cleare’s debut against the Div. II team – he had a Matrix-like box score reminiscent of former Terp bust Braxton Dupree -- as a case of the nerves. I’m sure there was a lot of that against Kentucky -- and by Noel as well -- but except for one transition dunk by the 6-9 power forward, Cleare looks like he’s taken a step back from what he showed during the preseason practices and scrimmages.