Maryland basketball took care of business in its home opener, but just barely. The Terps beat American University, 62-56 at Xfinity Center Friday night. It didn’t go exactly according to script, as the Terps really struggled throughout, shooting 39 percent from the field and 29 percent from three. They held just a six-point lead at the half, but they pieced together enough for the win.
Melo Trimble finished with a game-high 22 points, freshman Anthony Cowan finished with 12 points to go along with nine rebounds and transfer L.G. Gill chipped in 11 points.
Mark Turgeon started his lineup experimentation early, shocking many by giving two freshmen, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, the nod on Friday night. They joined Trimble, who started at shooting guard for the first time in his career, along with Jared Nickens and Damonte Dodd in a small lineup for Maryland.
The lack of interior scoring was blatant from the early going as guards combined to score 26 of Maryland’s 31 first half points. Trimble waltzed to the rim uncontested to score Maryland’s first six points of the game. He finished with 13 in the half. His counterpart, Cowan, scored eight points and operated the offense for much of the game.
Ivan Bender, who was recovering from a fractured wrist, also unexpectedly played in this one. The sophomore looked a step slow at times and is clearly a work in progress, but his early return is a good sign for a team without many towering bodies. Michal Cekovsky did not play with a foot injury.
The second half wasn’t much different from the shaky first. The Terps are clearly a team reliant on three-point shooting, and they struggled to get open looks. Their lack of post players allowed American to slouch off a bit and Maryland was only able to attempt 14 threes. They made just four of them.
They don’t look like the No. 25 team in the nation yet, and American held a lead with as few as six minutes left in the game. Maryland has work to do, or it’s in for a real wake-up call against Georgetown at the Verizon Center on Tuesday.
Still, it’s understandable that a team which lost four NBA-talent starters and replaced them with three good-but-not-elite freshmen and Dion Wiley, who hadn’t played a real game in 20 months, would struggle. The players are unfamiliar with one another, Turgeon is in the same boat, and luckily for Maryland, it was able to still escape without a scarring early-season loss.
3 things to know
- Mark Turgeon started two freshmen and Jared Nickens at the four. Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter both got the start on Friday night. Cowan started in the exhibition game, and against smaller non-conference teams that may not be so surprising, but Huerter playing over Dion Wiley, and Nickens over L.G. Gill was. It was just the first game of the season and there isn’t a ton to take away, but this is something to think about game by game as starters not named Melo Trimble inevitably swap in and out.
- Melo Trimble looked comfortable at shooting guard. He handled the ball a good amount, but Cowan and Jaylen Brantley ran most of the offense. Trimble didn’t get a good deal of open looks from distance, but was able to skate by opposing guards on the wing and find easy paths to the rim. He’s this team’s top offensive threat, and taking pressure off him to be the complete do-it-all guy is imperative.
- Maryland didn’t look good. That’s fine. The Terps lost four NBA-level starters in Rasheed Sulaimon, Robert Carter Jr., Diamond Stone and the best scorer in NBA history, Jake Layman. Recovering from that isn’t easy, and three players who are supposed to be big contributors — Huerter, Cowan and Jackson — all just played in their first collegiate game. Five months until March, people. No need to make any sweeping judgements yet.