The stream of early season cupcakes didn’t leave Maryland soft and weak Saturday when the Terrapins faced Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener. Although opponents hadn’t offered much resistance as Mark Turgeon’s squad reeled off 12 consecutive wins, regular practice sessions made his team hard, strong and hungry to devour a real foe.
The Hokies qualified in name and league, but they were treated like another Monmouth or South Carolina State. In the process of a 94-71 rout, Maryland provided ample evidence that it’s deep and dangerous, with multiple assets inside, outside and in-between.
You want 3-point shooting? Freshmen Jake Layman and Seth Allen hit a combined 7 of 15. You want presence in the post? Sophomore Alex Len hit 6 of his 12 shots and finished with a quiet 16 points and nine rebounds. You want ball movement? The Terps recorded 18 assists on 31 field goals. You want solid bench play? Maryland’s reserves outscored their counterparts, 32-9.
Turgeon had expressed concern about the preparedness of his four freshmen stars, including big men Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare. The coach was worried about their rate of progress and lack of consistency as the team meandered through a decidedly easy schedule.
Turns out he fretted for nothing.
“They’re all ready,” Turgeon said after Maryland’s 13th straight victory, the longest streak since the 2002 national title season (and one shy of the record set in 1931-32). “I keep telling you that they weren’t ready. In practice, I was waiting for them to get ready and they weren’t. They’re all ready.”
Especially Layman, who was inserted into the starting lineup minutes before tipoff due to forward Nick Faust’s back spasms. Turgeon had debated whether to start Layman or senior Logan Aronhalt, but he opted to go bigger (6-foot-8 vs. 6-foot-3) and got big results.
“I knew I had it in me,” said Layman, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds. “I just had to buckle down and focus on what I was doing wrong and correct it.”
He had struggled throughout most of the nonconference schedule, but demonstrated the all-around game Saturday that made him part of the U.S. under-18 national team last summer. Going home for Christmas break helped get his head right, as did a coaching adjustment by Turgeon.
“He’s a little more calm,” Layman said. “He’s not much of a yeller anymore. I didn’t really think it was bad the way he was coaching me, but I guess they think they can help me in a different way than by yelling.”
Allen came off the bench to lead Maryland with 21 points, connecting on 8 of his 12 shots. Turgeon said Allen was furthest along among the freshmen but needs more maturation before being considered for a starting role. “He’s getting there,” Turgeon said. “He’s grown up so much.”
Allen said he had an excuse for everything early in the season and was never wrong, but he receives instruction much better now. “I’m learning to listen better and be more coachable,” he said. “And you can see he’s more satisfied with it.”
Besides the Terps allowing 18 offensive rebounds, Turgeon was pleased with just about everything.
Maryland withstood the absence of Faust (five minutes), foul trouble for Dez Wells (12 points in 21 minutes) and shooting woes from Pe’Shon Howard (0 for 5 from the field). Tech’s Erick Green torched them for 28 points, but he does that to most everybody as the ACC’s leading scorer.
Green clearly is the Hokies’ best player and the team’s fulcrum on offense. You would be hard-pressed to find his equivalent on Maryland. At times it appears to be Len, the 7-1 Ukrainian sophomore, or Wells, the 6-5 transfer from Xavier. Layman and Allen would’ve received votes Saturday.
“That’s the best thing about our depth,” Allen said. “The guy coming behind you can be better than you, or it can be his night. It’s not just one guy. This team is so deep it’s going to be hard to stop us.”
No one has done it since Kentucky squeaked to a victory in Brooklyn. The next stiff test figures to be at North Carolina State next week, after winnable games against Florida State and Miami. Roles might be more refined by then, but Maryland could remain this multidimensional all season.
“I don’t know who are best players are,” Turgeon said. “We all feel comfortable as coaches that whoever we put in can handle the situation. I don’t think we’re anywhere near as good as we’re going to be. It’s going to be fun to watch this team get better.”
Fun for us, but scary for the opposition.