When the game story is written about the Maryland Terrapins heart-stopping 72-69 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats tonight virtually every story will concentrate on Maryland’s woeful 33% field goal percentage and their inabilities to make shots from range.
Ultimately, though, many of the most directional plays in this game were plays that won’t be seen on SportsCenter and will never be quantified on a box sheet and we’ll get to a few of those momentarily
It was a valiant effort, to be sure, and there is no shame in a close loss to the defending national champs in a nationally televised affair. Yet, as the Terps exited Barclay’s Center after the game, each one had their head down as if they each understood that they had just let a golden opportunity slip through their fingertips.
Kentucky had seized a commanding 49-36 lead at the break on the strength of terrific shooting and a Maryland offense that shot a host of bad shots. The Terps were a horrid 13-44 in the first half and that included 0-11 from the three point line. Conversely Kentucky shot 18-31 and a solid 5-7 from three-point land.
A different Terp team emerged from the locker room at the start of the second half and they went on a 23-8 run over the first 11 minutes of the first half to seize a short-lived lead. At that point it became a possession game and sometimes the trick in games like that is to simply make sure you have more possessions down the stretch.
So, back to those subtle, directional plays…with the Terps up two after their run, forward James Padgett missed a contested layup that would have taken the lead to four points and committed a foul on the rebound. Instead of the Terps having their largest lead of the game, Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer (19 points and 6 rebounds in a terrific performance) canned two free throws and the game is tied.
The game went back and forth for the next four minutes to the under four minute media timeout. After Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel missed two free throws, Maryland point guard Pe’Shon Howard rebounded the second miss and turned to go up-court with his team down just 65-63. As he turned, Kentucky reserve guard Jarrod Palson was able to jar the ball out of his hands and throw in an acrobatic left handed reverse layup to put the Wildcat lead at four.
That was the first of three consecutive loose balls that were all collected by the Wildcats in the next sixty seconds and allow them to keep the Terps at bay. Eventually those loose balls led to a 68-63 lead before Maryland would cut into the lead at 1:59 on a tip-in by freshman Charles Mitchell. Those two minutes of empty possessions would prove to be killers for the Terps. They would close to 70-69 inside the ten second mark but two Palson free throws and a poorly executed offensive set by the Terps on the last play of the game resulted in a disappointing loss.
Great news actually came out of this game, regardless of the loss. If, in fact, Kentucky is the third best team in the land then the Terps could well be right behind them. Yes, they are that good and that talented.
Sophomore center Alex Len was the absolute best player on the court by a mile. He fashioned a dominating 23 point, 12 rebound, 4 block performance against a host of talented Kentucky bigs.
Freshmen Jake Layman, Seth Allen and Charles Mitchell all had good minutes – especially in the second half- and proved that they can be counted on against any level of competition. Allen made two three pointers in the game and combined with Howard to total 10 assists against just 2 turnovers in that critical point guard position.
After the game, the brutally honest Turgeon mulled over the game and the last possession that went awry. “Obviously I never designed a play for our point guard to try and get a shot over a 7-footer but I’m learning this team and there are some things that happen in these early games that you just cannot prepare for,” he said. But after his public flogging he was far more philosophical about his team and what they had just learned.
“We came a long way tonight and we’ll get better as a result. I just really wish we were able to learn these kinds of lessons after a win…”
After watching the Terps tonight one cannot escape the feeling that there are plenty of those coming Turgeon’s way.