In the final few games leading up to ACC play, Maryland had been yearning for an increase in competition and the opportunity to prove themselves against legitimate teams. After slogging through a nonconference schedule that featured games against unheralded and largely inferior opponents, the Terps were ready for something more.
Charles Mitchell finished with eight points and five rebounds against Virginia Tech. (Photo by Bill Bride)
The problem for Maryland, though, was Saturday’s ACC opener vs. Virginia Tech didn’t present much of a challenge.
Maryland topped Virginia Tech, 94-71, on Saturday in front of 17,950 fans inside Comcast Center, the building’s first announced sellout for a non-Duke or North Carolina game since Feb. 20 2011. The Terps came out strong, taking an early 13-4 lead, and never relented en route to the 23-point victory.
Maryland (13-1, 1-0 ACC) held the lead the entire game and never even let Virginia Tech (9-5, 0-1) tie the score throughout the game’s 40 minutes.
“Obviously I was pleased with us today and our effort,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “I was greatly pleased with the crowd. It was great from the opening tip to the end. It makes a huge difference. That’s why I came to Maryland. I knew if we got it going, the fans would be there for us. I was just really proud of my team. We weren’t great the whole game, but we were good enough. We shared the ball again and guarded pretty good.”
Jake Layman, who earned a surprising nod in the starting lineup, provided a spark for Maryland in the first half and finished with a career-high 20 points and eight rebounds while also adding three assists and two blocks. Three other players finished in double-digit scoring for Maryland – Seth Allen (21), Alex Len (16) and Dezmine Wells (12) – but it was the performances from the team’s freshmen that led the Terps’ to victory.
Aside from Layman and Allen, Charles Mitchell recorded eight points and five rebounds and Shaquille Cleare scored four points and grabbed four boards. As a group, the Terps’ freshmen combined to score 53 of Maryland’s 94 points, or roughly 56 percent.
“They’re all ready. In practice, they weren’t ready. I kept waiting for them to get ready and they weren’t,” Turgeon said of the team’s freshmen. “Seth was the first along. Charles got a little out of shape. Shaq’s been practicing hard. They’re all ready now. I’m just really happy for Jake. It worked perfectly. We threw it inside-out and he hits the first shot. Then he gets a couple tip-ins. He was much better defensively.”
“That’s what’s so good about our team,” Allen added. “It’s anybody’s night. It’s not just one guy. We’re so deep. It’s hard to stop all of us. We can score in so many different ways.”
After taking a 16-point lead into halftime, the Terps allowed Virginia Tech to go on a 13-2 run midway through the second half, bringing the score to 69-58. But the Terps were able to bounce back quickly from their slump with key shots from Wells and Logan Aronhalt, who finished with seven points and two assists.
“We contested most of their shots, but they still were just hitting them,” said Virginia Tech guard Erick Green, who finished with a game-high 28 points. “They were on fire as a team, and we couldn’t find a way to stop that.”
Maryland’s bench outscored Virginia Tech’s, 32-9, and the Terps committed 18 assists to just 11 turnovers. Maryland also shot 51.7 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from 3-point range, continuing the team’s recent trend of strong shooting.
The Terps’ win was arguably the best possible start to ACC play they could have hoped for. Despite his usual exasperated demeanor on the sideline, Turgeon could be seen cracking the occasional smile toward the end of the second half.
With the win, the Terps picked up their 13th straight victory, tying the second longest win streak in program history. Maryland won 14 straight games in the 1931-32 season.
Saturday also marked the team’s first win in an ACC opener since 2010 and its most lopsided conference victory since 1999.
“This game is going to give a lot of guys confidence,” Turgeon said. “It’s going to be fun to watch this team continue to get better.”