Welcome back to Morning Shootaround, a regular feature this season the day after Maryland basketball games. While we can't bring you into the Terps' lockerroom after games – reporters haven't been allowed in there since the last couple of years under Gary Williams – we will recap what was said in the press conference afterward by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players. We will give some of our own insight into what transpired on the court during the previous day's game and what the Terps will be working on at practice looking ahead to their next game.
Maryland 94, Virginia Tech 71
Saturday at Comcast Center
The Terps certainly answered some of their skeptics who questioned the soft non-conference schedule Turgeon put together for his young team. Again, the second-year Maryland coach showed that he knew what was best for his team.
About the only problem with opening the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of their schedule with a 23-point win is that the Terps again didn't get to face a team of their caliber in a close game. But Maryland looked like an upper-tier ACC team, toying with – and then eventually running over – an undermanned bunch of Hokies at home.
I am not sure if Maryland is deserving of the unofficial title as the best unranked team in the country, but the Terps have to be in the discussion. They will probably stay unranked for another couple of weeks, possibly longer. As of this week, Maryland's five votes in the writers' poll put them 11th of the 12 teams that received votes but were not in the Top 25, and the five in the coaches' poll made them eighth among 13 not ranked.
After Terrell Stoglin was suspended for a year last spring and quickly opted to put his name in the NBA draft, many wondered how the Terps would replace the ACC's leading scorer. While many believed it was going to be addition by subtraction, Turgeon still had to account for nearly 22 points a game.
Though Turgeon didn't know at the time he was going to add transfers Dez Wells and Logan Aronhalt, he also didn't know how quickly any of the four freshmen he had signed would adapt to the college game, specifically to the ACC.
Stoglin, who is now playing in Greece, has not been missed at all, and Maryland's newcomers accounted for an astounding 72 points Saturday – including 53 by the freshmen. They also had 28 of the 40 rebounds and 10 of the team's 18 assists.
Turgeon made an interesting comment about his team's depth, particularly in light of the fact that both Len and Wells, Maryland's two top scorers this season, got off to slow starts before reaching double figures (Len with 16 and Wells with 14) in the latter stages of the game.
"I don't know who our best players are," Turgeon said. "I think Dez when the game is on the line can get the foul line and can get to the rim. Alex, when he's playing great, there's separation. Shaq [Cleare] is coming on. I think we all feel good as coaches, whoever we put in can handle the situation."
Just as importantly, the players have confidence in their teammates as well. One of the biggest problems with Stoglin last season was that his perceived selfishness stemmed in part – maybe in large part – to the fact that he didn't trust that the other Maryland players could score.
Now it's completely turned around. At one point Saturday, Turgeon had essentially three starters – Len, Wells and sophomore Nick Faust, who sat out most of the game with back spasms – on the bench in the second half as the Hokies were trying to make a run.
But Aronhalt hit a 3-pointer and freshman guard Seth Allen, who would lead Maryland with a career-high 21 points (with Jake Layman scoring a career-high 20 starting in place of Faust), made a layup after a turnover. Threat ended.
"The great thing about this team is that on any given night, anybody can go out and score 20, 25 points," said Wells, who finished with 12 points. "You can't hone in one person. You have to play everybody straight up. If they double-team Alex, you have make them pay for it by knocking down an open shot."
Len's learning curve
While Len didn't have a monster game – he finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and a block, though he altered the trajectory of several shots - the 7-1 sophomore center was a lot more active than he had been the previous two games against Delaware State and IUPUI.
Asked about his recent mini-slump that frustrated Turgeon to the point that he refused to call plays for his emerging star, Len said, "It was just the learning process, the season is so long, I just had to continue to work hard. Maybe I just lost a little confidence. "
Len still has to work on becoming more of a force with his defensive rebounding and shotblocking, but I am sure he did nothing to hurt his stock with the dozen or so NBA scouts who were attendance at Comcast Center.
He certainly showed his shooting range and athleticism in the way he got after a few shots – including to block one flying out to a 3-point shooter – and ran the floor.
“Coach talked about it, being more aggressive on the boards, get stronger and block shots,” Len said.
While Duke's Mason Plumlee is still considered the best big man in the ACC, it will be interesting to see how Len's game evolves in the next three weeks before the Terps head down to Cameron Indoor Stadium. The NBA scouts will continue to be in attendance at all of Len's games given how he is being mentioned as a certain lottery pick in the spring.
Turgeon said Friday that he expected Virginia Tech guard Erick Green, the ACC's leading scorer and the No. 2 scorer in the country at more than 24 points a game, to get his share on Saturday. Green did, finishing with 28 points on 8 for 18 from the field and 10 for 11 from the free-throw line. But as Turgeon hoped, the Terps made Green work for everything he got.
"He is good. He reminds me of Terrell [Stoglin]," Turgeon said. "I didn't let Terrell go like that – if I did Terrell would have gotten 30 a game. He is hard to guard. We have play him again. We will have to guard him a lot better if we want to beat him on the road. I thought we did a good job on [Robert] Brown and [Jarrell] Eddie."
The one thing that surprised me was that even without Faust, considered the team's best shutdown defender when he wants to be, the Terps did a good job early on Green and didn't allow him – or the Hokies – to get off to a fast start.
Green didn't take a shot for nearly the first 4 ½ minutes, after the Terps had jumped out to a 15-6 lead. I figured Faust was going to play Green, but Pe'Shon Howard did a pretty good job setting the tone defensively on him and had help later from Wells, Allen and even Layman.
A fan's frustration
You knew there would be some Hokies fans at Comcast Center on Saturday. You heard one during the national anthem give a shout out to Green. But how about the guy sitting a few rows behind the media section, who voiced his lament when Green went hard to the basket and the fan thought he was fouled?
"C'mon ref, that's not a foul? We [stink] bad enough. We need all the calls we can get," the fan yelled.
The Terps will try to tie the school record of 14 straight wins – set by the 1931-32 team led by Louis "Bosey" Berger, Maryland's first all-American – when they play Wednesday night against Florida State. The 9-5 Seminoles, who lost their season opener at home to South Alabama and also lost at home to Mercer this season, are coming into College Park after winning their ACC opener at Clemson on Saturday, 71-66. Florida State won despite Michael Snaer, the ACC's third-leading scoreer, going scoreless in the first half and finishing with just eight points.