NEW YORK – Kyle Wiltjer finished with 19 points and six boards as No. 3 Kentucky was able to hold off a scrappy Maryland team 72-69 in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic.
Maryland was down by 13 at halftime and as much as 15 in the second half, but the Terps used a 21-4 run to take a 59-57 lead with eight minutes left. Freshman Seth Allen hit the big shots, drilling a pair of threes on back-to-back possessions to give Maryland the lead.
Wiltjer was the star for Kentucky and looks like he may end up being the guy that takes the big shot as the Wildcats look to defend their national title. When Maryland first tied the game at 53, it was Wiltjer that buried a three to give them the lead back. Kentucky also isolated him on the block on a couple of different possessions down the stretch.
Alex Len paced the Terps with 23 points, 12 boards and four blocks, outplaying UK’s vaunted front line of Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel by a wide margin. UK’s twin towers finished with a combined 12 points and 15 boards, and while they did blocks seven shots, they also had a front row seat to the 28 — seriously, 28 — offensive rebounds that the Terps were able to collect. That’s not going to fly.
There really aren’t any bottom-lines to be taken out of this game, especially when it comes to Kentucky. That is a team that is going to develop and grow and work out their kinks. Alex Poythress is going to end up playing a much larger role than he did tonight. Noel and Cauley-Stein will get better on the glass. Ryan Harrow will likely bounce back from a bad opening performance; he’s battling the flu. This is a group of freshmen joining forces with upperclassmen that have never played a role this large for a program this scrutinized before. There is no way you can judge them based off of their first college games.
For Maryland, however, it is a bit of a different story.
Remember how we all said that the Terps were now relevant? How the addition of Dez Wells would be a game-changer and make the Terps a player in the ACC race? Well, it did. And based on the way that Maryland played tonight, they might have been better than we thought without Wells. Len is the real deal, that much was proven tonight. The reason Maryland lost was the horrific shooting performances they got from Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust, Dez Wells and Seth Allen. Those four combined to go 9-43 from the floor and 2-14 from three. They won’t shoot that poorly every night.
“Hopefully, some guys will understand that we don’t have to shoot in six seconds every time.
But hopefully, those same guys will understand that the 17:4 assist-to-turnover ratio they combined is the reason they were able to come back.
That’s the more important statistic to look at, and it will be how Maryland competes in the ACC.