The Maryland men's basketball team came into Comcast Center on Wednesday night looking as if it took Abilene Christian as seriously as it did Division III Catholic in what turned out to be a 45-point exhibition game victory 10 days before.
The Terps spent the better part of the first half — the first 25 minutes, really — playing at half-speed at both ends of the court. Maryland's best player, Dez Wells, passed all but five minutes of the first half on the bench.
Mark Turgeon wanted to send a message. It worked.
While Wells didn't take over, others did, particularly sophomores Charles Mitchell and Jake Layman. Mitchell helped the Terps cut an 11-point deficit to one by halftime, and Layman led Maryland the rest of the way in a deceptively tough 67-44 victory.
Layman finished with a game-high 19 points, including 14 in a 17-0 run that turned a six-point deficit early in the second half into a comfortable lead. The Terps scored the last 29 points of the game in a span of 14:12. Layman also had six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.
“We did kind of lack some leadership in that first half with Dez being out,” said Layman, who didn't start because he had not practiced Tuesday as a result of a deep thigh bruise. “No one really took control of our offense.”
Asked whether he and his teammates were concerned after falling behind by double digits, Layman said: “There wasn't concern — there was frustration that we know we could play a lot better than that. That's something we can work on.”
Turgeon blamed himself for how ill prepared his team appeared in its home opener against a team transitioning to Division I.
“I thought Abilene Christian was great the first half; I thought we were not very good,” Turgeon said. “I take the blame for that. I don't know what I did wrong. I didn't not have us ready to play. To play that way is not good. We did not put a lot [of preparation] into Abilene Christian. Maybe our guys thought I didn't think Abilene Christian was any good by doing that. Obviously I didn't get them prepared to play.”
Turgeon, who started freshman Roddy Peters at the point and moved Wells back to his natural position on the wing, said he will likely move Layman into the starting lineup with Wells at the point when Maryland hosts Oregon State on Sunday. Turgeon said he benched Wells because of “some miscommunication” and the way Wells threw away a couple of sloppy passes early.
Asked whether Wells got the message, Turgeon said: “He got the message right away. He's a good kid. He regrets it. I thought he was the one who I thought got Jake going. He found Jake on a lot of those. He had a couple of sloppy turnovers early; I don't think he was into it. The second half, I don't think he turned it over and did a lot of nice things. I thought he got the break going, played with energy.”
If Layman helped Maryland (1-1) avoid what would have been an embarrassing performance — and even a loss — in its home opener, fellow sophomore Charles Mitchell started the revival. The energetic and formerly rotund forward provided the Terps with a spark off the bench, scoring 15 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Collectively, it was Maryland's defense that also proved to be the difference against a team transitioning to Division I. The Terps were shredded by Abilene Christian's outside shooting, particularly from 5-foot-9 sophomore Parker Wentz, who had all 13 of his points in the first half. Abilene Christian missed its last 18 shots.
A 3-point shot by Wentz, one of three he hit in a 5-for-5 first half, gave Abilene Christian its biggest lead, 28-17, before the Terps cut it to one by halftime. Three straight 3-pointers early in the second half, two by Harrison Hawkins, gave Abilene Christian a 44-38 lead, but it would not score another point.
“I thought our guys competed,” Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding said. “And it was our first time in a big arena like this. Each game [on a season-opening three-game road trip] our competition went up. Each arena got bigger and louder. And then [on] TV. We were scared to death. If you would have seen us yesterday, we were all taking pictures. Hopefully in a couple of years we won't do that. We'll be used to it.”
NOTE: Three of Maryland's four-man 2015 recruiting class signed letters of intent Wednesday. Shooting guard Melo Trimble, who was away on a class trip, will join shooting guard Dion Wiley, center Trayvon Reed and small forward Jared Nickens on Friday, when he is expected to sign.