LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — From Jalen Smith’s outside shooting to Aaron Wiggin’s slow start on offense to the Terps avoiding an upset loss in a season full of them, here are three takeaways from the No. 5 Maryland men’s basketball team’s 76-69 win over Temple on Thursday in the first round of the Orlando Invitational.
Jalen Smith might have found his shot.
When Jalen Smith hit a 3-pointer with 15:45 remaining Thursday to put the Terps ahead, 42-41, it gave Maryland its first lead of the second half. It also marked the first 3-pointer that the 6-foot-10 sophomore forward from Baltimore hit this season after missing his first 10 attempts, including three against the Owls.
While his second 3-pointer was even bigger for Maryland, giving the Terps a 62-60 lead with 3:57 left, the first might have been bigger for Smith, who came into the season trying to show that he was a better 3-point shooter than he was last season, when he hit just 26.7% from beyond the arc.
“It felt amazing,” said Smith, who had finished 3-for-10 from the field. “In practice, I pretty much knock down every thing I shoot, so my first field goal of the game [on the first 3-pointer] gave me a lot of confidence to just keep improving and keep shooting.”
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon expected Temple’s defense to pay more attention to Anthony Cowan Jr., who finished with a career-high 30 points, than to Smith because of Smith’s inability to hit from the outside. He made his first long-range shot in Friday’s win over George Mason.
“It’s good to see him make those shots,” Turgeon said. “Hopefully that’s going to be the sign of the things to come for him."
Even when the Terps were going inside to Smith, he was having trouble finishing at or above the rim. There was a point midway through the first half when Smith seemed to be a no-show, with zeroes strung across several categories on the stat sheet.
“I challenged him," Turgeon said. “I said, ‘You’re one of my best players, you’ve got to play better. You’ve got to get an offensive rebound, you’ve got to block a shot. You’ve got to do something.' I thought the second half he was pretty much dominant blocking shots, rebounding, second chances, his pass to Eric Ayala [for a 3-pointer].
“We kept talking about that during timeouts. They’re doubling him from the weak side. The weak-side wing is going to be open [as Ayala was]. It took us almost a whole game to figure it out, but we got that shot late [from Ayala].”
Where was Wiggins?
There was some doubt going into the season about whether sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins would surpass Cowan and possibly Smith as the team’s big scorer. But, like Smith, the Terps’ leading 3-point shooter last season has started slowly from an offensive standpoint.
Except for his career-high tying 15-point performance in an easy win over George Mason, when he shot 3-for-7 from 3-point range and 6-for-12 overall, Wiggins has struggled, shooting 5-for-23 overall in the first four games. Wiggins wasn’t just missing a lot of shots; he wasn’t taking them.
In the first half Thursday, Wiggins attempted just two shots and was fouled going to the basket on a third. Though he wasn’t struggling as badly as Smith was on the offensive end, Wiggins wasn’t helping his team on that end. He finished with just five points on 1-for-5 shooting and four rebounds.
“We got Aaron some good looks in the second half. He got tired a little bit,” Turgeon said. “Wigs got some good looks in the second half, he got to the foul line. It wasn’t his day. He kept defending and he kept trying to rebound.”
The Terps did well to avoid another top-10 upset.
Given the amount of preseason top-10 teams that have already lost — including preseason No. 1 Michigan State, which has already lost twice — it was hard for the Terps to ignore what was happening in different parts of the country and in different Thanksgiving week tournaments.
After Kentucky’s shocking loss at home to Evansville and Duke losing earlier in the week to Stephen F. Austin, it would have not been surprising for Maryland to lose to Temple on Thursday at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.
It would not have surprised Turgeon either if the Terps had become the seventh preseason top-10 team to lose. No. 6 North Carolina took that spot later in the day when the Tar Heels lost to Michigan in the Bahamas.
“I think what has helped us is this — just because we have a number in front of our name, I don’t think we’ve really earned it, to be honest with you,” Turgeon said. "Hopefully we do at some point. We get everybody’s best shot.
“But because there’s so many upsets, our guys are OK with it being a close game. We were hanging our heads against Fairfield and I was like, ‘Guys, you’re not going to beat everybody by 30.' ... The bottom line is about winning. We’ve figured out every game how to win.”