COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Maryland men's basketball team lost, 76-71, to Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge before a sellout crowd of 17,950. Here are five takeaways on the Terps' loss:
1. Virginia is a veteran team that took care of business in a tough environment.
The Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in March, but make no mistake: Virginia is once again a national title contender thanks to its ability to create open shots on nearly every offensive possession, control the pace of the game and suffocate opponents with its defense as a game wears on.
It wasn't the usual defensive effort from the Cavaliers; the Terps shot 54 percent from the field for the game, scored 1.16 points per possession and, as Virginia head coach Tony Bennett pointed out, penetrated the paint during the first half in a way that Cavaliers opponents typically do not.
But Virginia found a way to win when its trademark defense wasn't up to its usual standards. The Cavaliers got a big performance from junior guard Kyle Guy, who hit four 3-pointers in the first half. They got an efficient night out of redshirt senior center Jack Salt, who had multiple backbreaking putback dunks in the second half. They turned the ball over just twice, both due to offensive fouls.
"I think they had two turnovers -- that was probably the big difference," Maryland freshman guard Eric Ayala said. "Their pace was their pace; they don't let anyone speed them up. … Every game we're probably going to be the youngest team out there so we have to go out there and play to the best of our abilities."
2. Maryland won't see a better top three than Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De'Andre Hunter this year.
The Cavaliers ran creative offensive sets to spring shooters open off of screens all night; Guy scored 18 points and finished 5-of-9 from 3-point range. Guy, armed with a nonstop motor, forced Maryland junior guard Anthony Cowan to chase him all over the floor throughout the night. Virginia made eight threes as a team in the first half, many of which were the product of the quality sets the Cavaliers were running.
Virginia also has NBA-level talents in junior Ty Jerome and redshirt sophomore De'Andre Hunter. Jerome, a 6-foot-5 guard who can handle the ball, shoot and get to the rim, showed off what he brings to the table after Maryland closed its deficit to four points with less than four minutes left in the game. Jerome hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the top of the key to push the Cavaliers' lead back to seven – exactly the kind of shot a seasoned veteran guard can make on the road to quiet a raucous road crowd.
"They're some confident guys," Ayala said of Guy and Jerome. "There's not really a shot that they don't like, and their coach trusts them to make plays at the end of the day and that's what they did. A lot of respect to those guys and the work they put iin; they're the No. 4 team in the country for a reason. Those guys are running that show, so a lot of respect to those guys."
Hunter, a 6-foot-7 wing, can really get to the rim; despite getting into foul trouble in the first half, Hunter finished 6-of-13 from the floor and sliced through the Maryland defense multiple times with ease, and he finished one of those drives with a big-time dunk against Maryland sophomore center Bruno Fernando.
"Those plays ignited us," Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said of Hunter's aggressive drives. "We needed those. … I like the way he attacked and almost beat [Fernando] to the rim a couple of times with the dunk and that's what you have to do."
3. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon went to a four-guard lineup for much of the second half.
The Terps entered halftime down, 39-30, and that deficit swelled to 17 before the under-16 media timeout even hit thanks to a 3-pointer by Guy, two baskets by Salt and two free throws for Hunter. After that, Turgeon went small.
"I just felt that defensively our big lineup wasn't good enough tonight, so we went small," Turgeon said. "But I've got to share time at the five with Bruno and [freshman forward Jalen Smith]. It hurts them."
"In the first half, we got our high-low game going with [Smith] and we executed pretty well," Turgeon added. "I just had to make a change or it would've been a 20-point loss. We made that change to give ourselves a chance to come back; that's why we did it."
Turgeon played Fernando and Smith together for most of the first half but opted against that in the second half, mostly going with a four-guard lineup with guard Darryl Morsell acting as the power forward. Morsell guarded Hunter or the 6-foot-8 Braxton Key.
Turgeon rotated guards Anthony Cowan, Aaron Wiggins, Serrel Smith Jr., Ayala and Morsell throughout the second half, and Maryland scored 41 second-half points against one of the best defensive teams in the country year in and year out. The Terps were 13-of-21 from the floor in the second half, with Wiggins (3-of-4 from 3-point range during the half) and Ayala (2-of-4) leading the way.
Maryland shot 15 free throws in the second half, too, with six coming courtesy of Cowan.
"We still didn't guard great, we didn't rebound as well in the small lineup," Turgeon said. "[But] I think it gave us some confidence, and we got out and got to the foul line. [Virginia] had 10 team fouls early. That's a really good sign for us. If we can draw fouls against the team that's No. 1 in the country in fouls, that's a good sign for us."
4. The Terps play a smoother game offensively when Fernando and Smith are not on the court together -- but those are also the Terps' two most gifted players.
Smith played 9:54 in the second half, and while the Terps play better offensively with just one big man in the game, they were missing what Smith brings to the table: rim protection, rebounding and a diverse offensive skill set. Maryland needs to figure out how to mesh the skills of their two most talented players.
Once Smith finds his shot --he was 0-for-2 from 3-point range against Virginia -- that will help the Terps spread the court with their two big men on the floor together.
"[Smith] is a good shooter -- can make threes," Turgeon said. "He's just got to get in a rhythm to get a few more of them, and then we'll be harder to guard."
"Me and him, we're still trying to figure out a lot of things and how to be on the court at the same time," Fernando said. "Obviously against a team like that, we have to figure out ways to play better and make sure we win, but it's a process."
5. Maryland kicks off Big Ten play with a quick turnaround.
The Terps will host Penn State Dec. 1 in the first Big Ten game for both teams. The Nittany Lions have three players averaging double figures -- forward Lamar Stevens (23.0 points per game) and guards Josh Reaves (10.8 points) and Rasir Bolton (10.5) -- and another close behind in guard Myles Dread (9.8).
Penn State is 4-2 and coming off a big home win against No. 13 Virginia Tech.
"This game was huge; it'd have been big," Turgeon said after losing to Virginia. "But the biggest game of the week for us is Penn State because it's a Big Ten game."
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