Barclays Center Classic - Kentucky v Maryland

Maryland lost, but proves itself as an ACC contender

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NEW YORK – Maryland lost to Kentucky 72-69 on Friday night in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic in a game that will surely leave a bitter taste in the Terrapin’s mouth.

After digging themselves a 15 point hole with a combination of poor shot selection and abysmal defense, Mark Turgeon’s club completely changed the game in the second half. A 21-4 run turned what had been a 53-38 deficit into a 59-57 lead over the No. 3 ranked Wildcats, and if it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of a walk-on that didn’t even make the Maryland scouting report, the Terps could have very well left New York with a statement victory.

A tough loss indeed.

But it was one that showed the Terps truly will be a factor in the ACC race this season.

The biggest reason, quite obviously, is Maryland’s biggest player — 7-foot-1 Ukranian Alex Len. Len finished with 23 points, 12 boards and four blocks, thoroughly outplaying Kentucky’s vauned pair of seven-foot freshmen, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Things may be different when he is forced to go up against a more physical post defender — like, for example, Miami’s Reggie Johnson or NC State’s Richard Howell, someone that can force him off of the block — but all indications, to this point, are that Len will live up to his preseason hype. And in this day and age, how many teams can say they have a legitimate, seven-foot center that is a scoring threat on the block?

“He was a huge weapon for us,” Turgeon said after the game. “We expect great things out of him. Hopefully we can give him a little more help on the perimeter moving forward.”

The end of Turgeon’s statement may actually be the most important takeaway from Friday night’s loss.

Maryland’s top four perimeter players — Dez Wells, Nick Faust, Pe’Shon Howard and Seth Allen — combined to shoot 9-43 from the field and 2-14 from three. That is, quite frankly, atrocious. But it’s also not the kind of performance that you should become accustomed to with this group. On the one hand, Maryland did get a lot of good looks from the perimeter; they just missed them. And when the Terps finally put the ball on the floor and got to the rim, they ran into a pair of seven-foot shot-blockers that will end up being first-round draft picks. That won’t happen again this season.

They fought. They battled in the paint (28 offensive rebounds). And they came back from 15 down against one of the favorites to win the national title. No one likes moral victories, but any coach would take a loss where there team went down swinging than a 20 point drubbing on national television.

I still believe that Maryland is a year away from truly contending in the ACC. But if they proved anything on Friday, it’s that they will be a factor in the league race in February and March.

“We’re gonna win, and we’re gonna win this year,” Turgeon said. “I promise you that. We just didn’t win tonight.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 4 Maryland refocuses, slows down No. 18 Purdue

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon watches from the sideline during a break in play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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No. 18 Purdue and No. 4 Maryland exchanged leads for most of the first 33 minutes before the Boilermakers scored five straight points on layups by Rapheal Davis (who was fouled on his make) and Caleb Swanigan. Purdue was getting the touches it wanted around the basket, and Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins weren’t doing a whole lot to keep it from happening either.

Turgeon called a timeout to get his team back in sync defensively, and as a result Maryland went on a 9-0 run that ultimately led to their winning by the final score of 72-61.

Maryland’s big men, Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone, did a much better job down the stretch of keeping Purdue from getting the ball inside to senior center A.J. Hammons. Hammons finished the game with 18 points and ten rebounds, but only two of those points came after Maryland’s 9-0 second half run. But keeping the ball from getting inside is just as much about the players defending the passers as it is keeping the big(s) from getting to his preferred spot.

Defensively Maryland took away the passing angles and essentially made Purdue’s guards make plays, something they’ve struggled with at times this season. That led to far too many perimeter shots for Purdue, which shot 3-for-23 on the day from beyond the arc. Add in the fact that they attempted just five free throws as a team, making two, and areas in which the Boilermakers can benefit went neglected in College Park.

By comparison Maryland was able to make a habit of going to the foul line, shooting 24-for-27 from the charity stripe with Rasheed Sulaimon and Melo Trimble combining to go 17-for-19 on the day. The foul line helped Trimble make up for an off day from the field, as he shot 2-for-12, but the sophomore’s ability to work off of ball screens ultimately opened things up for Maryland even with his shots not falling.

Add in the fact that Sulaimon (21 points, ten rebounds) and Carter (19 points, seven rebounds) were able to pick up the slack, with Diamond Stone adding 12 points and six rebounds, and it’s easy to see why Maryland was able to turn things around down the stretch.

Maryland’s been a good defensive team this season, but they got away from that for a significant portion of Saturday’s game. A key timeout to get the team refocused paid off, the the Terrapins defending at a level that made it incredibly difficult for Purdue to get anything going. And as a result, Maryland remains within a game of leaders Iowa and Indiana in the Big Ten title race.

Darryl Reynolds shines, Kris Dunn struggles as No. 3 Villanova beat No. 11 Providence

Villanova forward Darryl Reynolds (45) dunks the ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Villanova, Pa. Villanova won 83-58. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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Replacing the injured Daniel Ochefu, who missed his third straight game as the result of a concussion, Darryl Reynolds finished with a career-high 19 points and 10 boards as No. 3 Villanova went into Providence and knocked off the No. 11 Friars, 72-60.

Josh Hart chipped in with 14 points and 13 boards (seven of which were offensive), Kris Jenkins notched a double-double as well and Ryan Arcidiacono added 16 points for the Wildcats, who improved to 10-1 in Big East play, keeping them all alone in first place in the league.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win, which wasn’t quite as close as the final score would indicate, is that Villanova did it while shooting just 5-for-22 from three. The Wildcats have been reliant on the three during this recent run atop the conference, and on Saturday, they won by controlling the the glass and the paint.

Reynolds’ performance was something else. This is a guy who entered the game averaging just 2.3 points and a reputation for being little more than the reason that Ochefu played so many minutes, but it got to the point on Saturday that he was being double-teamed in the post to get the ball out of his hands. That’s pretty remarkable.

As if the fact that Villanova, playing without their best rebounder, grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and totally controlled the defensive glass.

 

Much of that is likely due to the fact that Ben Bentil, the 6-foot-8 forward for the Friars that is the Big East’s leading scorer, was dealing with an ankle injury he suffered at DePaul earlier this week. He finished 20 points, but much of that came in the form of jumpers and shots at the rim while his two rebounds was much more indicative of the impact that he was able to make with his ankle.

But what was really concerning for Providence was that Kris Dunn was downright awful. He shot 4-for-15 from the floor, committed six turnovers and simply made the wrong decision too many times. Yes, he was likely pressing due to the fact that Bentil was injured and Villanova’s defense was keying on him, but it’s not exactly comforting to know that this is what his floor is.

He’s Kris Dunn.

He’s going to be keyed on by defenses every single time he steps on a basketball court.

He has to be better than he was today.