COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- No. 3 Maryland got a quick lesson in what comes with that lofty preseason ranking.
First, 13,928 fans showed up for the Friday night exhibition with Southern New Hampshire at Xfinity Center. There was also the matter of a little bit of opening night jitters. Then there was taking a game underdog’s best shot.
In the end, it all worked out in a 91-55 victory over Division II Southern New Hampshire, five different Terps scoring in double figures and the Terrapins pulling away in the second half against the pesky Penmen.
“We were excited playing in front of the home fans, there were a lot of people there for an exhibition game,” smiled Melo Trimble. “I was a little bit nervous. I just think we were all a little nervous and excited. I think we’ll be ready come our first game.”
A 36-point victory over a quality foe, albeit Division II, looked pretty ready. At least after the jitters played out. For a lot of the first half, one of the two teams looked like a legitimate Final Four contender, unfortunately that team was Southern New Hampshire, which won 28 games last year and reached the Division II Elite Eight.
The Penmen (a patriotic-themed tip of the tri-corner cap to the SNHU’s origins as an accounting school, where the pen or quill was central to all studies) battled gamely and effectively though they were physically over-matched.
Asked about how Maryland put up such a commanding effort on the boards, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said that stat was forged “in recruiting.”
The ink finally began to run dry in the second half, and Maryland played in dominating spurts. First, ballyhooed freshman Diamond Stone lived up to some of the ballyhoo with six points in the game’s first two minutes. Then Jake Layman helped shoot Maryland out to a lead, though both the two scoring stars – 16 for Stone and 15 for Layman – had to sit long stretches after picking up fouls.
“All our bigs got in foul trouble tonight,” said Turgeon. “A lot of my substitution tonight had to do with fouls. ‘So this guy gets two, let’s play this guy.’ Jake picked up three and we were able to play pretty good without him in the second half.”
Ah, the second half. After leading 40-26 at intermission, the Terrapins really pushed the Penmen. The Terrapins scored the first seven points of the second half to take charge, more importantly, showing up a little stronger at he defensive end. While scoring those seven points over the first three minutes and 20 seconds, the Terrapins held Southern New Hampshire scoreless, the Penmen off the mark (0-for-7 shooting) and committing two turnovers until finally scoring five minutes and 23 seconds in.
Robert Carter, on his way to a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double, got a three-point play inside to start the run. Then Stone hit two free throws, part of a 6-9 from the field, 4-for-4 night at the line to go with five rebounds in just 17 minutes. Stone got a dunk on a feed from Rasheed Sulaimon and it was 47-26 with 16:40 to play.
“It was my first college game and (my emotions) were high,” said Stone. “Coach Turgeon just said let’s play inside-out, and that’s what we did. I posted hard and my teammates gave me the ball.”
Turgeon said he asked his team to do three things. “I asked them to play hard defensively, and I think we did that. I asked them to play inside-out on offense, and I think we did that. And I asked them to be great teammates, and I think they did that.”
Maryland had 91 points, and according to Turgeon, missed many shots they regularly hit in practice.
The Penmen finally got on the scoreboard in the second half at 15:27, when Devin Gilligan hit a driving shot. DaQuaise Andrews scored on a drive and it was 47-30 at 14:37. Trimble hit a three but Rodney Sanders answered with one of SNHU’s five threes (in 22 attempts). But 17 points was as close as the Penmen could draw.
Maryland got a 6-0 spurt -- Stone canning two free throws, Carter two more, and Michal Cekovsky getting a tip in – and suddenly it was 56-33, and the Terrapins looked like the consensus Top 5 team forecast in the preseason.
SNHU would shoot just 29 percent (18-of-62) and get outrebounded by a whopping 50-22, but the Terrapins were just jittery enough to let the skilled Penmen hang around for the first half.
Maryland finished with a very un-Top 5 23 turnovers, but 52.6 percent shooting, 16 second chance points, and 24 points off the bench made up for it. Eleven different Terrapins scored and they had that quintet of double-figure scorers, including Trimble with 14, and Jared Nickens with 10.
“The only thing was the turnovers,” said Turgeon. “A couple of over the backs, a couple of illegal screens-type things, but we’ve got to get that down, which we will, because we have good players.
Trimble had six turnovers, equaling the most he had in any game all of last year.
“I don’t want to make excuses but we weren’t together this summer,” said Turgeon of several players playing internationally (and him coaching there, too). “We’ve come a long ways in a week, I can’t even tell you.”
“We just have to take care of the ball a little bit better,” said Carter, the Georgia Tech transfer who sat out last year. “I feel we played great as a team. We shared the ball. We played defense. We played hard. We played together. The biggest thing we took away was the turnovers, and I think we’ll fix that because we have great offensive players.”
The Terrapins were without one of those players, sophomore guard Dion Wiley, who injured his knee in practice Thursday. He had an MRI Friday and will meet with doctors Saturday. He didn’t dress for the exhibition game. Nickens started alongside Trimble with Layman, Carter and Stone, who got the nod because, well, why not?
“Diamond Stone has had two really good weeks in practice,” said Turgeon. “He did well in our scrimmage and starting means a lot to him. I think Diamond has shown that he’s pretty special. He wasn’t going against 6-10 guys, but to be able to catch and finish. He made it look easy. He’s a huge weapon for us. Eventually he’s going to be our starting center so why not start now.”
Turgeon also said starting didn’t mean as much to vastly improved sophomore Damonte Dodd, who chipped in four points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes, and like all the bigs, had at least three fouls. Carter said it was an adjustment playing against the smaller Penmen, who had only one player over 6-7, after banging against each other in practice. Cekovsky (3 points, 4 rebounds) and Ivan Bender (3 points, 2 blocks) also had their moments.
“Yeah, I think that is what makes our team special,” said Carter. “We have great inside players and great outside players. It’s different from last year, but now we have a more balanced offense. If we go inside and they double us, it will make it much easier for everyone else on the team.”
Stone scored his first collegiate basket just 16 seconds into the proceedings, and would go on to hit his first three shots in the opening minutes, including an NBA-ready, catch-and-spin-and-dunk move that wasn’t fair against a Division II school. When Trimble scored backdoor right after that play, on a feed from Carter, Maryland led 11-4 at 17:29.
The lead would balloon to 19-6, Maryland on an 8-0 run fueled by a Layman three, a Dodd stickback and then Nickens hitting one of two free throws and then a 15-footer to make it a 13-point lead at 13:47.
But that would be Maryland’s last score for nearly five minutes, turnovers hurting the Terps. Southern New Hampshire scored nine straight points over that span (4:46), and pulled back to within 19-15 at 9:48 on two free throws by Adrian Oliveira.
Carter started a 9-1 Terrapin spurt with a drive and score at 9:01. Cekovsky added a free throw, and played aggressively in his six first half minutes. Nickens scored on a stickback, Trimble in transition and then his two free throws made it 28-16 at 5:25.
The Terrapins would lead by as many as 16 points at 37-21 on a Layman 3-pointer at 1:28, and enjoy a 14-point lead at the half. Maryland shot a decent 46.4 percent (13-of-28) but the Terrapins were sloppy with 14 turnovers, many unforced.
Transfer Jaylen Brantley, the hand-picked point guard backup, had two turnovers in his first few seconds. He settled down and finished with four points and two steals, and looks like a major weapon in the open floor.
Trimble had three first half turnovers and at the other end, the Penmen drew several of those 10 fouls on the Terps. Many came on dribble penetration, but that also allowed Maryland to get a couple of blocked shots (Carter finished with four of Maryland’s seven for the game) and adjust a few more SNHU shots. The Penmen hit just 27.3 percent (9-33) and were dominated on the boards, 30-11 in the first half.
Maryland shut down the paint better in the second half. SNHU was 14-of-20 at the line for the game, while Maryland hit 22-of-28.
BJ Cardarelli had 11 first half points, the 6-8 forward causing some trouble with a solid mid-range game. In one sequence, he spun away from Sulaimon and hit a jumper while fouled to get a three-point play that made it 28-19. Sulaimon came right back down, beat him off the dribble and hit a three of his own for a little revenge.
Sulaimon had five points, seven rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes, and looked every bit that second point guard on the floor Maryland so desperately needed last year and Turgeon feels is essential in today’s college game.
Trimble had nine first half points, including Maryland’s last three of the half, all at the line. Late in the half, Maryland gave him the ball and cleared out to get him going. The shot-clock was never a factor, two well-schooled teams executing their offenses pretty well.
Maryland had one violation but Dodd had got off a baseline jumper in time, it just hit the side of the backboard and never reached the rim. SNHU got one in the last three minutes, shooting an air-ball as the clock expired.
Cardarelli led SNHU with 13 points.
Turgeon cleared the bench late, even the walk-ons getting in during the final minutes. Varun Ram, the former walk-on, dominated those last ticks, scoring five points, including a straight-on, banked 3-pointer, recording a steal and a charge drawn. The crowd reactively appreciatively, as they had when he entered quickly after a timeout, replacing Sulaimon, who had just notched a steal and a dunk at 3:02 to make it 84-52.
The Terrapins open up for real Friday, Nov. 13, hosting Mount St. Mary’s in the season-opener.