Mark Turgeon didn't get the arrival-announcing win fans were hoping for, but his team's performance against the much-ballyhooed, #3-in-the-country Kentucky Wildcats certainly spelled out optimistic signs for the future.
His Maryland Terrapins were ice-cold in the first half - the entire game, really - trailed by as many as 15, and went into the break down 13. Their thought-to-be two best players in Nick Faust and Dez Wells were a combined 6-27 from the field - yes, they finished with a 22% shooting percentage. The guy who was supposed to be a veteran ballhandler, Pe`Shon Howard, struggled mightily. And Calipari's team sometimes looked downright well-oiled at times compared to Maryland's youngsters.
And despite all that - a perfect storm of a variety of negative scenarios, which combined could've led Maryland to getting run out of the gym - the Terps ended up one basket away from overtime. This team - officially Turgeon's team now, given that almost everyone on the floor was brought on by him - displayed rare heart and fight, with an extraordinary second-half display that virtually no one saw coming. For as good as Kentucky looked in the first half, Maryland was just as dominant in the second.
It was an unfortunate ending, with Maryland squandering a lead due to a few killer missed opportunities and a rash of second-half Kentucky free throws, some deserved and some more questionable. But very many very good teams will do a lot worse than losing 72-69 to Kentucky this season. The Terrapins showed everything they could've shown to make you believe they're as advertised: a scrappy, talented bunch that will make some serious noise in the ACC this season.
The biggest reason Maryland was in this game at all, though, was Alex Len. He looked timid and quiet against IUP, but he was the best player on the floor without question, despite playing against five future first-round draft picks. His added strength is obvious; so is his comfort level with the game, and his intensity. Len was a gentle giant last year, but he played with serious intensity in this game, easily besting Nerlens Noel and playing angry. He finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, and he did it against the player most considered the easy #1 pick in the NBA Draft next season.
Len looked like a superstar. If he plays like this the rest of the year, the rest of the ACC better watch out. Because there isn't a player in the conference who could've checked him tonight.
There's a lot else to sift through, including Charles Mitchell's rebounding, Maryland's ridiculous lack of shooters, the future of Faust and Wells, and most importantly what they're going to do at point guard. (Seth Allen was easily better than Howard in this game, and it wasn't particularly close. Not only was Howard lacking athletically, but he struggled with decision-making too. With a Mark Turgeon offense, that can't happen.)
But the big takeaway: Maryland shot 33% from the field. They shot 3-19 - 15%! - from three. They gave up 28 free throw attempts. All to probably the most purely-talented roster in the country.
And they were a bucket or two away from winning.
Maybe this wasn't the program-altering win that fans were looking for. But it announces Maryland's presence as a team to be reckoned with nonetheless. They'll get better throughout the year as they sort out some personnel issues and get improvement from Wells and Faust - who, let's face it, could hardly perform worse. And if they do, this team will be able to challenge any in the ACC.