COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland men's basketball team wanted to go into next week's CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo., with the memory of three straight blowout victories to start the season still fresh and its collective confidence still growing.
But if the first two games helped the Terps show their promise and newfound chemistry, Thursday's 66-50 victory over Fordham at Xfinity Center exposed two of their potential flaws: a lack of experience by point guard Melo Trimble and trouble scoring inside when their outside shots aren't falling.
Coming into the game third in the Big Ten Conference in field-goal percentage (.551), Maryland hit its first three shots of the first half and its first four of the second half. In between, and again after, the Terps did not have much offensive rhythm.
Fortunately, Maryland was locked in defensively against a Fordham team that lacked height inside and that had kept home freshman guard Eric Paschall, who scored 31 points in his college debut last week, because of an irregular heartbeat. The Rams (1-2) shot 19-for-62 from the field, including 7-for-29 from beyond the arc.
"I thought we were terrific defensively tonight," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, whose Terps have kept opponents to about 31 percent shooting this season. "I thought we guarded and we guarded and we guarded some more. Up until the five-minute mark, defensively, I thought we were tremendous."
Offensively, the Terps (3-0) struggled against Fordham's packed-in 2-3 zone. Maryland improved on an 8-for-22 first half by shooting 14-for-25 in the second half, and also raised its free-throw shooting mark from horrendous (2-for-10 in the first half) to mediocre overall (16-for-27) by making 11 of its last 12.
Freshman guard-forward Jared Nickens led the Terps with 13 points and had six rebounds. Junior forward Jake Layman had 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, including both of his 3-pointers, while missing all three of his free throws.
Layman's biggest contribution of the night came early in the second half. After having sat for most of the last 10 minutes of the first half with two personal fouls, he threw down successive dunks to help build the five-point halftime lead to 15, 39-24.
"It was very important. That was the whole game right there," said Layman, who has made 15 of 20 field-goal attempts this season. "That was our main focus at halftime: Don't give them any confidence."
If the Terps' main goal was to rattle Fordham's confidence, another aim was to keep Trimble from losing his own. He had four turnovers in a shaky first half, the last of which came when he was stripped by Rams guard Jon Severe, whose driving layup cut Maryland's lead to five, 23-18, before the halftime buzzer sounded.
Trimble played better in the second half, hitting a couple of 3-pointers and turning the ball over only once. Asked whether he thought his starting point guard might be pressing, and whether he was concerned about Trimble losing confidence, Turgeon didn't blink.
"I don't think that Melo will lose confidence. I do probably think he is pressing," Turgeon said. "I don't ever read what you guys write, but I'm sure it's been pretty positive coming into this and a lot of expectations. I sat down with him at halftime and talked to him about just relaxing and having fun and just don't put too much pressure on himself. He's got good teammates around him."
One of them, senior guard Richaud Pack, had another solid game, playing mostly off the ball but occasionally spelling Trimble at the point. Pack finished with nine points on 4-for-6 shooting, a team-high eight rebounds, four assists and just one turnover in a team-high 30 minutes.
While the Terps are 3-0 for the first time in Turgeon's four years, he knows his team will have to play better next week against Arizona State on Monday night and Tuesday against No. 14 Iowa State or Alabama. Maryland is less than two weeks away from its ACC-Big Ten matchup with No. 9 Virginia.
"I think we're going to be up and down in games early. I think a lot of teams are," Turgeon said. "What we're trying to do is hang our hat on defense right now, and that showed tonight."