There was little time to waste in the wake of Friday’s season-opening loss to No. 3 Kentucky, little reason for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon to hold back.
There were encouraging moments in the 72-69 setback in New York, certainly enough to believe Turgeon’s second group of Terrapins could far surpass the 17-15 bunch he presided over a season ago.
It was not, however, an immediately successful venture. So as Maryland’s players practiced Saturday, met individually with coaches that night and then had two sessions Sunday, Turgeon left little question with the Terps their debut was not good enough.
“I know some people were satisfied with the loss,” Turgeon said. “We weren’t. We didn’t go there to lose and we were disappointed with the way we played in the first half. We felt like we gave the game away in the first half.”
It would not happen Monday at Comcast Center. Maryland blasted Morehead State 67-45, suffocating the Eagles from start to finish and never facing a serious threat in the final 30 minutes.
Nick Faust scored 12 points and Alex Len added 11 for the Terps (1-1), who won their home opener for the 36th consecutive season.
Maryland held an opponent to less than 50 points for the first time since a 66-42 rout of Virginia on Jan. 27, 2011, fulfilling one of Turgeon’s desires in the Terps’ first game since falling short in their opener.
“He said ‘We’re going to win,’ so just playing a team close isn’t good enough,” forward James Padgett said. “He wants us to win, so when we’re able to win games, we can brag about those.”
This, to be sure, wasn’t a close game.
The Terps unleashed their depth on the Eagles (1-1), going 10 players deep within the first six minutes. Maryland came in waves and produced the balance Turgeon clearly craves and could not remotely come to achieving a season ago.
The series of line changes at the scorer’s table had the effect of wearing down Morehead State twice. It initially happened in the first half, when the Terps secured a double-digit lead for good when Len’s two free throws made it 24-13 with 5:16 before the break.
Morehead, a feisty bunch with two NCAA tournament appearances in the last three seasons and a feisty coach in Sean Woods, exploited Maryland’s sloppiness (20 turnovers) in trimming a 16-point halftime deficit to 10. But the Terps kept substituting, kept coming, kept applying some pressure and eventually erased the Eagles’ modest gains and then some.
This was not a performance for a team feeling sorry for itself after a near-miss against the defending national champions. And it surely wasn’t the sort of game a team content to be proud of such a performance would uncork just a few days later.
“A moral victory means nothing to us,” swingman Dez Wells said. “People have a lot of those, but we don’t walk away with those. We want to win. That’s what Maryland is all about. We want to win. You can look at our other sports. Our lacrosse team has won [several] national championship. This whole school is about winning. Coming close to beating the No. 3 team in the nation is not good enough for us.”
Maryland’s immediate response was not perfect, nor should anyone be stunned it wasn’t so early in the season. Individually, there were fits and starts —- Seth Allen not as sharp as he was against Kentucky, Shaquille Cleare substantially better, Jake Layman showing incremental improvement and Pe’Shon Howard managing seven assist without taking a shot.
There are pieces in place, the foundation of something with some curious room for growth. For now, though, satisfaction is not something starting to bud in College Park.
“Our expectations for this team are to get better every day and play at a high level,” Turgeon said. “I told the team ‘I don’t know how good Kentucky is, but I think this team in this room can be pretty good before the year is over if we start listening a little bit more and trying a little bit harder in practice.’ We’ve made huge strides.”
—- Patrick Stevens