For a few minutes, it really felt like this game was the Terps to win.
***Photo via Baltimore Sun
But a lot of things have to go right in order for a team to pull off the upset over a team like Kentucky, from avoiding those miniscule mistakes, to making clutch buckets, to retaining poise.
1. The emergence of Alex Len: He's real, and he's Len-tacular. The second-year assassin from the Ukraine made tremendous strides in the off-season and they were on display in full effect Friday night.
The 7-foot-1 Len enjoyed the best game of his career with a team-best 23 points and 12 rebounds. Dunk and spin moves — even a 3-point attempt – were all in play during the game, and his dominance was never more evident than the 3-point play he pulled off with 8.9 seconds left, as he grabbed his own free-throw miss and slammed it home.
Last year, Len came out of the abyss shy, timid, and despite the so-called potential we heard he had as a future NBA big man, he seemed to be a bust.
In covering Mark Turgeon last year, he noted that Len was in a transition period, but when "the light turned on for him," we would all know it. Brooklyn was lit up last night.
2. Fearsome Freshmen: It's not a secret that Maryland will rely upon its freshmen this season, and that's a situation that is near-impossible to read.
Allen scored 6 points and tied Pe'Shon Howard with a team-high 5 assists, and also led the Terps with two big 3-pointers.
Mitchell was a dominant force on the boards, finishing second only to Len with 10 boards (6 offensive). Layman, who only played for 11 minutes, dropped the Terps' first make from downtown on the year.
I'm not sure if Turgeon will pull the trigger of any of the freshmen to make them starters, but if Nick Faust and Howard continue to struggle offensively, it might be inevitable.
3. Numbers (sometimes) Lie: A quick glance at the box-score of this contest, and you might suspect the Terps won this game, not lost by three.
Due to Len's dominance on the boards, in addition to Mitchell's emergence and James Padgett, Maryland out rebounded Kentucky by a count of 54-38. The Terps' grabbed 28 offensive boards, which — if they were able to be more efficient shooting the ball — could have led to a win.
Though they didn't capitalize on all of those second-chance points, the potential — (I hate the "P" word) — is certainly there going forward.
Then, there's the stat indicative of the score. Maryland shot 33 percent from the field (16 percent from 3-point range). Len was an impressive 10-18, but Faust took the second-most shots (15), and only made 4.
In his Terps debut, Dez Wells took a dozen shots and made 2, and none from downtown. And Howard, who is still rusty coming off of the ACL injury, went 1-8 from the field.
4. The Confidence of a Champion: In order to beat the defending national champs, you have to play as confident as the defending national champs.
The Terps didn't have that cool, confident demeanor down the stretch of this highly contested game.
In the final 10 minutes, there was period in which the Wildcats stole the in-bound pass and got an easy bucket. On the ensuing possession, Maryland handed the ball over to Kentucky, leading to another quick score.
In an instant, Terp Nation collectively sighed and thought to themselves, "Same old Terps."
5. Who Will Emerge as the Go-To Guy? As the clock winded down, everyone knew Kentucky would crowd Len near the basket and force someone else to chock up the final shot.
The candidates: Howard, Faust, Wells — or do we think Allen or Layman are worthy?
Howard has made big shots in his career. Last night he appeared very rusty, so we're hoping that's the reason for his offensive deficiencies. The veteran on this squad and the pilot of this offense, when he's in mid-season form he could be "the guy."
Faust was expected to be the scorer we all clamored when he was at Baltimore City College. But 11 points on four buckets ain't cutting it. Like Howard, Faust might be rusty on his shot — that better be why he tossed up more than enough air balls.
Wells is already the Terps' best guard, and the former All-Atlantic 10 selection was playing in just his first game with this squad. I don't think he'll have many 2-12 nights on the season.
Or can you trust a rookie in Allen or Layman? The two frosh accounted for the lone 3-pointers on the night. Layman is an Olympics hero, and Allen might've been the most impressive player not named Len.
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