COLLEGE PARK — A young and undermanned Maryland men's basketball team experienced some growing pains for the first time this season Wednesday night at Xfinity Center against No. 7 Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Down two starters who played a big role in last season's upset of the then-No. 5 Cavaliers in Maryland's final Atlantic Coast Conference regular season game, the No. 21 Terps played catch-up nearly from the opening tip.
It finally caught up to Maryland, which saw its best start in eight years come to an end with a 76-65 defeat before an announced crowd of 15,371, by far the largest and most enthusiastic of the season.
"I do think it was a tough matchup for us, where we are right now with our team," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, alluding to the fact that the Terps were without injured seniors Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz. "We didn't quit. We kept trying to respond. I think we'll be a better team because we played Virginia tonight. They're really good."
Freshman point guard Melo Trimble led Maryland (7-1) with 16 points, including 12 of 14 from the free throw line. Junior forward Jake Layman added 14 points and five rebounds. Freshman guard Dion Wiley scored 12 and senior guard Richaud Pack had 11.
"It was hard, we didn't come out with the intensity that we needed to, especially on defense," said Pack. "They came out and played tougher defense from the beginning and it kind of got us behind."
Said Layman: "That [the early deficit] is definitely hard to overcome. We're a good enough defensive team to rely on it when we get down 10, but against a team like Virginia that's very efficient, we just weren't good enough."
Playing without Wells (fractured wrist) and Smotrycz (sprained ankle), who accounted for 31 points in their team's 75-69 overtime win last March, Maryland (7-1) stayed in the game after a rocky first five minutes with a spark off the bench from Wiley.
The 6-foot-4 shooting guard scored nine first-half points by making 3 of 4 shots, the first on a three-point play and the next two baskets on long 3-point shots. Maryland's freshmen scored 20 of its 29 first-half points and helped cut what had been a 10-point deficit early and a 12-point deficit late in the half to eight at halftime.
Asked about the performance of his freshmen, in particular Trimble, Turgeon said: "I thought Melo [Trimble] was terrific. It was 2-on-1 most of the time he had the ball. He was off the charts, got to the foul line 14 times against a team that was trying to stop him. He just didn't have a lot on that end."
Turgeon was pleased with the way his team adjusted offensively to Virginia's physical "pack line" defense after a rough start, especially the way the Terps got to the foul line (27 of 36).
Maryland's defense, which had been holding opponents to a little over 35 percent shooting, was another story.
"They came into this game struggling offensively and we gave them too many layups," said Turgeon, who counted 18 layups or dunks among Virginia's 26 baskets on 49 attempts. "Our defense wasn't good enough for us to beat a team like Virginia, we have to be a lot better defensively than we were."
Junior guard Malcom Brogdon led Virginia (8-0) with 18 points. Junior forward Justin Anderson, who gave up a scholarship to Maryland, finished with 16, including 11 in the first half before leaving the game midway through the second half with what appeared to be a sprained ankle.
Despite the outcome, the Terps played the nation's stingiest defensive team tough, scoring 25 points above what Virginia's previous opponents had averaged, but hit just 16 of 40 shots from the field (six of 18 on 3-pointers). They also had a season-low seven turnovers.
It certainly left an impression on Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett.
"Watching them, they play together well," Bennett said. "Especially without Dez and without Evan, that affected them. Those are important pieces for them. Mark does a really good job.
"They had a lot of talent last year, they have a lot of talent this year. It's young, but it looked like ... they're a little more cohesive. Those young guys are going to get better and better."
Layman helped get the Terps and the crowd back in the game with a couple of dunks early in the second half, though the 6-9 forward missed on two straight open 3-pointers later – the second rimming out – that could have cut what had become a 13-point deficit to single digits.
"I think those wouldn't have been the difference, the difference was our defense not being where it needed to be," said Layman. "That [missing those two 3-point shots] definitely hurt us."
When the Cavaliers built their lead back up to 17, 61-44, it seemed as if the young Terps had tired because of their lack of depth and experience. To Maryland's credit, it cut the deficit back to 10, 64-54, on a 3-pointer by Pack with 5:40 left.
"I think that was big, a lot of teams would have let it get out of hand and let it get to 20, but we just kept fighting, we just kept saying, 'Make it a game, make it a game, try to make it a run," Pack said. "I think we stuck to that and we finished as best we could."
Leave it one of Maryland's fearless freshmen to explain the quiet confidence of this young team.
"I'm still confident in the team because of how we lost, it wasn't a blowout," Wiley said. "We didn't have a couple of key guys, Dez and Evan. I think if we would have had them I think we would have won."