COLLEGE PARK — These were just the sorts of games that Maryland often struggled to put away last season — nonconference contests against smaller teams that couldn't seem to hold the Terps' interest until the final moments.
Maryland missed 12 of its first 17 shots against Morehead State on Monday night — a beginning that seemed to foreshadow another uneven effort.
But the Terps — propelled by the first Comcast Center points from transfer Dez Wells — seemed to come to life after that, using their superior size and depth to record a 67-45 victory in their home opener as part of the Barclays Center Classic.
“Yeah, we wore them down,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “All 10 guys in our rotation can play. Thank God we have some depth, because I think some guys get tired pretty quickly.”
Maryland was energized by a dunk by Wells. Coming down on a break, Pe'Shon Howard lofted the ball above rim level, where the Xavier transfer dunked it hard for his first Maryland points in front of the home crowd with 8:37 left before halftime. Just like that, the fans — who might have feared a Maryland letdown after a three-point loss to defending national champion Kentucky on Friday night — raised the decibel count to accustomed manic levels.
Last year, Maryland won by single digits at home against such teams as Radford, Cornell and Florida Gulf Coast.
This season's Terps appear to have better insulated themselves from disappointing showings in games they are supposed to win. Even when Maryland shoots poorly — as it did for early stretches Monday night — it has the depth and inside strength to wear down smaller opponents. It does not need to rely on its outside game.
Turgeon started the same lineup he did against Kentucky — four returning players from last season, plus Wells.
But Turgeon substituted liberally. Maryland's lead was only 11-5 when the Terps had five players on the floor who weren't with the team last season: freshmen Shaquille Cleare, Charles Mitchell, Jake Layman and Seth Allen and transfer Logan Aronhalt.
“It's a luxury having guys come in and you're not losing anything,” forward James Padgett (nine points) said. “A couple of our freshmen played great.”
Maryland was led by Nick Faust (City, 12 points) and Alex Len (11 points, seven rebounds). Mitchell had nine rebounds. Layman had seven points and said he felt more comfortable than in Maryland's season opener — the 72-69 loss to Kentucky in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Maryland's size advantage was obvious. Len, Maryland's improving 7-footer, was sometimes matched up against 6-9 forward Jason Holmes or 6-7 forward Jordan Percell.
Maryland's inside strength was evident in the teams' free-throw differential. The Terps went to the line 29 times, making 17. Morehead State was 6-for-8.
Turgeon has set a free-throw goal for the season. He wants the Terps to make more free throws than the other team attempts. Maryland easily surpassed that target against the Eagles.
“We knew it was going to be a tough task to get low post play because they are so big and strong,” Morehead State coach Sean Woods said. “That's when our guys lost their confidence.”
Morehead State had won its opening game — against LIU Brooklyn, Maryland's next opponent Friday night —by relying largely on 3-pointers. But the Eagles missed nine of their first 10 3-pointers as the Terps rolled to a 35-19 halftime lead. Morehead State finished 1-for-14 from beyond the arc. Senior Milton Chavis led Morehead with 10 points.
Maryland pushed its lead to 50-35 on back-to-back inside shots by Padgett, the second with 11:49 left. Turgeon began pulling his regular players from the game with about two minutes left — something he rarely had the luxury of doing last season.