The Maryland Terrapins received an unexpected gift in their attempt to get beyond the post-Kentucky hangover they almost certainly felt after their nationally televised heartbreaker on Friday night. That gift came in the form of the Morehead State Eagles and had nothing to do with any inabilities or incompetence.
In fact, it was quite the opposite.
From the very first possession of the game, the Eagles double teamed, rebounded, and hustled their tails off against a young Maryland team playing its first home game of the season. Their efforts simply would not allow Maryland to mail in this game and coast to an easy victory.
That Maryland won this game handily, 67-45, doesn’t really speak to just how hard the Terps had to work for the win. They endured another terrible shooting first half (9-24) by using impressive depth and stifling defense in route to a 35-19 halftime lead. They were bolstered by a 16-22 performance from the free throw line and in that first half and a terrific all-around performance by sophomore center Alex Len who had 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and generally made life miserable around the Morehead basket.
In the end, the crowd of 8,724 left energized by the performance they had just witnessed by a Maryland team that had 10 players enjoy double figure minutes. While Nick Faust and Len led the scoring with 12 and 11 points respectively, fans were also able to get a quality sample of a handful of newcomers.
Sophomore Dez Wells was impressive in his home debut and shot 50 percent from the field and was in the middle of several scrums where he inevitably came up with possession of the ball. He finished the game with 8 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds and also finished the game’s signature play when he caught a lob pass in transition in the first half right around the top of the white square and threw down a dunk that had the rim rattling for a good thirty seconds.
Freshmen Jake Layman and Charles Mitchell did what they are supposed to do. Layman hit spot up jumpers and Mitchell grabbed every rebound within the area code. Layman ended up with 7 points and appears to be a credible threat to take pressure off of Len down the road. Mitchell ended up with a team leading 9 rebounds and continues to impress with his both his hands and his motor.
But the biggest impression of the night probably belonged to freshman Shaquille Clear. He will always be compared to his classmate Mitchell and he has struggled in his first two outings as a Terp. In this game, however, he stepped up in a big way. He scored 8 points that included a sterling 5-6 performance from the free throw line. He also grabbed 5 rebounds and had 3 blocks. Except they weren’t just blocks.
Evidently the big fella never heard of the legend of Bill Russell and how he used to block shots to himself to start fast breaks. Instead, Cleare appears to be interested in seeing exactly which section of the Comcast Center he might be able to send the ball to. Each one of his shots actually landed in the lap of various fans in attendance. And each one was greeted with the same sort of “did you just see that?” look from the students sitting close to the floor.
Next up for the Terps are the Blackbirds from Long Island University. The first game of the season resulted in a three point loss to this same Morehead State team. They are a regular NCAA tournament team and love to play at pace. That, in and of itself, will offer Maryland another challenge.