On Thursday, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said that if the Terps could handle the furious pressure that was bound to come from UConn's lightning-quick guards, he'd know that his makeshift backcourt would be in good shape.
It might be time to go back to the drawing board.
The Maryland backcourt struggled early and often on Friday night in Brooklyn, piling up eight first half turnovers that led to a double-digit deficit that they would never overcome. The Huskies, who never trailed, withstood a 20-8 second half run from Maryland to hang on for a 78-77 win in a game that was eerily similar to Maryland's loss to Kentucky in last year's opener, also in Brooklyn.
Fill-in point guard Dez Wells, who led Maryland in scoring last year, had a couple of attempts in the game's final minute to win it for the Terps, but came up short. Wells didn't attempt his first shot of the game until about halfway through the first half. He turned the ball over four times in the early going and had 6 giveaways total, going 3-for-10 from the floor and finishing with 13 points in the loss. The junior also added seven boards and six assists.
Turnover issues are nothing new for the Terps, who somehow were able to win 25 games last season despite averaging 14.8 giveaways per contest, good for 282nd in the nation. A year older and now featuring freshman phenom Roddy Peters, Maryland looked to be on the road to solving their giveaway woes until projected starting point guard Seth Allen broke his foot last week in practice. Allen's absence showed in a big way on Friday, as Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and the Huskies piled up 10 steals, many of which turned into easy buckets at the other end.
The point guard position, however, was far from the only troublesome spot on Friday night for Maryland. UConn hit six threes and scored 48 points in the first half. Their shooters were routinely left wide open behind the arc, and they made the Terps pay. The Huskies cooled off in the second half, but still ended up hitting 10 treys and shooting an unconscious 51.7 percent from the field.
Niels Giffey led a Connecticut bench unit that racked up 24 points in the first half. The senior hit from deep thrice and had 13 at halftime. Giffey's career high in points for an entire game was 15 points heading into Friday. He also scored 14 once as a freshman.
UConn also beat Maryland on the glass, 36 rebounds to 33, despite giving up height throughout their lineup. Oversized and unable to stay with UConn's guards, Maryland was forced to play zone most of the night. Ball-hungry Huskies were able to sneak into its cracks and Connecticut amassed nine offensive boards. Connecticut blocked six Terrapin shots, while Maryland's defense finished the game without a block.
Newcomer Evan Smotrycz, a Michigan transfer, provided the silver lining for the Terps in Brooklyn. Playing his first official game in black, yellow and red, Smotrycz scored 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting and added nine rebounds. Charles Mitchell was also solid down low for the Terps, going 5-for-6 from the floor and displaying some nimble feet on a couple of pretty finishes at the rim. Mitchell replaced an ineffective Shaquille Cleare (four points, one rebound) in the starting lineup to start the second half.
The Terps shot only 42.1 percent, but were able to keep the game close at the free throw line, where they went 21-for-28. Nick Faust was their leading scorer, but jacked up 18 shots in the process, only converting five. Jake Layman, Sunday's hero against Catholic, was having an off night before catching fire in the second half. Layman scored 9 of the 11 points on an 11-0 Maryland run that got the Terps back in the game.
The Terps almost stole one from the Huskies at the end, after Napier, the best player on the floor for either team, fouled out. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for Maryland, who never recovered from their turnover-infested slow start. The Terps play Abilene Christian on Wednesday night in College Park, a favorable matchup that should allow them to try to get their backcourt issues sorted out.