EVANSTON, Ill. — Forget the defensive shortcomings Maryland exhibited against Lafayette. Ignore the slog in the Terrapins' victory over Georgia Southern.
And please, by all means, pay no mind to Tuesday's careless first half against Northwestern.
It was the 20 magisterial minutes the Terrapins authored to close out a 77-57 defeat of the Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena that demonstrated just what Maryland might prove capable of as it delves deeper into the season.
"If we play hard every time like we did tonight, I think we're going to be good," center Alex Len said.
This is not hubris, not braggadocio from the soft-spoken sophomore. This is reality, one buttressed by the best half the Terps (5-1) summoned in the season's first month.
They shot well after the break, 66.7 percent from the floor. Maryland, which had massive turnover problems when it wasn't foolishly hoisting bad shots, had only four giveaways. It throttled the Wildcats on the glass, and it found graduate student Logan Aronhalt for some zone-busting 3-pointers when it wasn't pounding Northwestern in the paint.
"They stuck it to us in the second half," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said.
The seeds of a dangerous team — if not a truly resplendent one then surely a bunch capable of toppling anyone on the right night — are there. Len's value is more readily recognized each game, a skilled big man who is nearly impossible to contend with at both ends of the floor.
Yet it's not all about him. Aronhalt's shooting is a weapon Maryland requires to open up space inside. James Padgett is more adept at exploiting opportunities. Pe'Shon Howard returned from knee surgery with a penchant for fewer turnovers. Dez Wells remains a do-everything option.
The pieces are slowly beginning to coalesce, and the picture late Tuesday evening in the Chicago suburbs was even more promising than what the Terps offered in their season-opening loss to Kentucky.
"I've got a good team," coach Mark Turgeon said. "We haven't played like it all year until tonight, but we have good players. Nothing out of Seth tonight, and we all know how good Seth [Allen] is. Nothing out of Jake Layman, and we all know how good Jake Layman is. The good thing is we have the luxury of finding the right guys each night to plug in instead of going with the same six or seven we had to this year."
There are caveats worth mentioning. Northwestern (6-1) was at a severe athleticism deficit, one Maryland was neither patient nor smart enough to pick apart in the first half. The Wildcats showed little interest in offensive rebounding, a bit of an issue when a team shoots 34 percent and takes nearly half of its attempts from beyond the 3-point line.
In short, it wasn't a victory Maryland is likely to point to in March as a resume-building triumph. It was, however, proof the Terps' optimal level is higher than what they revealed in the first five games.
"I think so, but I think we can still be better," Aronhalt said. "Defensively, we were pretty good but we could take another step and be that much better. It's going to be scary when we put a 40-minute game together."
Maryland isn't frightening on a full-time basis, not yet. It could mold itself into such an outfit as it continues to figure things out.
Len is a force. Howard is a solid table-setter. Freshmen Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell show promise in the paint. And Wells changes so much in subtle ways, to the point it didn't fully feel like he tossed up 23 points Tuesday.
"It felt like a great win for us," Wells said.
Indeed it was — and it's worth remembering the level the Terps reached in the second half as the latest standard they set for themselves moving forward.
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