Maryland closed out nonconference play Tuesday with a 81-63 defeat of IUPUI, its 12th straight victory coming against the latest random and overmatched opponent to enter Comcast Center.
Moving forward, though, things should become far more interesting for the Terrapins.
“Oh my God, you don’t understand,” freshman forward Shaquille Cleare said. “[Coach Mark] Turgeon will be like, ‘I’m tired of this game, let’s get this game over with, guys. C’mon, guys.’ I think he’s excited about league play, and so are we. We’ll be ready to go.”
A victory over the Jaguars (6-12), who were feisty enough to exploit a lethargic Maryland start and bolt to a 14-3 lead, was the final piece of a pre-ACC stretch that at times seemed to drag on endlessly.
Turgeon tired of discussing a schedule designed for a lesser team long ago, and there is little reason to dissect the slate unless Maryland (12-1) finds itself as a borderline NCAA tournament outfit come March. But the reality is the Terps figure to learn more far about themselves in January than the first two months of the season combined.
However, 2013 started with one last lopsided affair, a game thoroughly reflective of the tenor of many triumphs in what has become the third-longest winning streak in school history. All but three of the triumphs came by at least 17 points.
“We needed the games,” Turgeon said. “We did what we had to do. A lot of teams around the country play the same kind of schedule. We handled it well. We didn’t have that many close games. That might be the only concern I have going into league is we haven’t had many close games. We practice that a lot in practice, so we should be ready for it.”
Tuesday offered a reminder of the dangers lurking should Maryland lollygag at any juncture.
In an echo of the Nov. 9 season opener against Kentucky — one that feels like eons ago — the Terps slogged along in the early stage at both ends of the floor. Indeed, IUPUI’s 11-point lead was the largest for a Maryland opponent since Kentucky was up 15 in the first half.
“All these nonconference games we just played, we’re glad we got them out of the way,” guard Seth Allen said. “League play is here, so we’re just going to give it everything we’ve got. We want to come out and hit every team in the mouth first. We have to play 40 minutes together every night. We started out soft, and you can’t come back on a good team like that. That’s kind of what happened against Kentucky.”
Allen scored a team-high 13 points for Maryland, which got scoring from all 10 players in its regular rotation and had no one take more than six shots.
Balance and unselfishness are two of these Terps’ hallmarks, and the latter figures to remain a strength for as long as this group is together. The former might be slightly more difficult to maintain.
Maryland will find out soon enough. In the next four weeks, it will play six games against five projected first-division teams in the ACC. There will be visits to Duke, Miami and North Carolina. There is a visit from N.C. State and a home-and-home with Florida State.
But there also is the immediate matter of dealing with Virginia Tech in Saturday’s conference opener.
“I feel good about going into league because I think we’re ready for it,” Turgeon said. “Mentally, we weren’t ready to play today. Saturday, I think we’ll be much more mentally ready to play.”
They’re probably a little relieved, too. Swaths of the nonconference portion of the season were downright dull to watch, with Comcast Center about halfway full (Tuesday’s announced crowd was 8,971) and the Terps toying with substantially overmatched foes.
Playing such opponents couldn’t have been too thrilling, either. That’s one problem the soon-to-be-tested Terps won’t contend with any longer.
“We couldn’t wait for it,” Dez Wells said. “We’re tired of playing in these games. We’re just ready for the competition to pick up more and have better games and better feedback from the crowd. We’re just ready, I guess, for the campus to come alive.”