BROOKLYN -- The stage was set for Maryland to show off its new-and-improved roster.
With ESPN in the building and a national audience watching on T.V., the lights were bright. As the first game between two major Division I basketball programs in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the stage was big. And with defending national champion Kentucky lining up on the other side of the court, the opponent was a legitimate litmus test of just how improved Maryland was in coach Mark Turgeon’s second year at the helm of the program.
But in the end, the Terps came up just short. Despite a promising and impressive performance – one that bodes well heading forward this season – Maryland fell to Kentucky, 72-69, in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,732 inside the Barclays Center.
Alex Len led the Terps with 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots in 32 minutes of action, while Nick Faust (11) and James Padgett (10) both finished with double-digit point totals. But a weak shooting performance – Maryland finished 25-for-75 from the field and 3-for-19 from 3-point range – and solid outings from Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer (19 points), Archie Goodwin (16) and Jarrod Polson (10) eventually doomed the Terps, who outrebounded the Wildcats, 54-38.
It was a performance that ended with a loss in the record books, but was encouraging for Turgeon all the same.
“We weren’t ready in for the big stage in the first half, that was obvious,” Turgeon said. “But that’s why we play these games because we want to get there … We’ll learn a lot from this.”
Maryland (0-1) had a chance to tie the game late. After receiving an inbounds pass with seven seconds remaining, Pe’Shon Howard dribbled down court and ran off a screen set by Jake Layman. Howard went up for a shot that didn’t even get out of his hands before the final buzzer instead of looking to a wide-open Layman a few feet to his left.
“That’s not what I wanted, obviously,” Turgeon said. “[Howard] was not supposed to shoot over a seven-footer. There was a guy right in front of me who was open for a three.”
The Terps worked their way back into the contest in the second half and overcame a 13-point halftime deficit. Maryland went on a 15-0 run and held Kentucky (1-0) scoreless for more than five-and-a-half minutes to notch the score at 53.
“We slowed the game down in the second half,” Padgett said. “We were taking a lot of bad shots in the beginning. Coach wanted us to take better shots, so we slowed the game down and took our time.”
After tying the score, Maryland and Kentucky exchanged baskets. In all, the score was tied four times and the lead changed hands 10 times.
But a first half where the team shot 13-of-44 from the field – and when every player except Len was 6-for-31 – proved to be too much to overcome for Maryland.
“We weren’t very good in the first half. We played wild. We shot quick. We didn’t run back to defense,” Turgeon said before later adding, “Our shot selection was poor. I don’t know how many times I said shot fake and drive it because they go after every shot fake. We never did that.”
Still, coming within three points of the defending national champion, a team that entered the year as the No. 3 team in the country and brought in – once again – the nation’s top recruiting class, bodes well for a young Maryland team.
With four freshmen who should continue to see their playing time increase and two transfers who haven’t spent much time in College Park, Maryland is a team that will likely get better as the season goes on.
And that’s something not lost on Turgeon.
“We’re going to win, and we’re going to win this year. We just didn’t win tonight,” Turgeon said. “We learned a lot tonight. Kentucky had national championship pride and they just wanted it a little bit more at the end than we did. We’re going to win.
"We’re going to win.”