By: Brandon Simberg
Despite a late comeback, the Maryland men’s basketball team suffered their first loss of the season to the Virginia Cavaliers 76-71 on Wednesday night. In a close battle, there are some positive takeaways for the Terps. Here are some thoughts on the game.
Small ball paying off
One of the most notable changes in tonight’s game was coach Mark Turgeon’s decision to play with a smaller line up in the second half. He opted not to have Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando play with each other, and it actually paid off. Instead of Smith at power forward, the smaller and faster Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell shared time there. Maryland won the second half by four points.
Smith played hard, but he had the worst plus minus on the team by far at -14. Defensively, he had a tough time staying in front of UVA’s Deandre Hunter and offensively the team needed outside shooting with Fernando often getting double teamed. I have liked Smith’s production this season and believe his poor play was a result of a bad matchup. However, his jumper needs to improve so he can get more more time when teams play small.
At the under 12 minute TV timeout, Turgeon decided to sub in Aaron Wiggins, Serryl Smith Jr., Ricky Lindo Jr., and Ivan Bender all in at the same time. This, unsurprisingly, led to four straight UVA points on some awful looking Maryland possessions before Turgeon brought some starters back in. It had been a long time without a stoppage of play, so maybe the starters were tired, but I hope Turgeon realized that lineups without Fernando, Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan are not going to work out.
In the second half, Bender and Lindo did not see the court, and Smith Jr. saw limited minutes. Again, this decision seemed to pay off as the Terps offense exploded for 41 points (the most points Virginia has allowed in a half all year). This outburst could lead to many of the aforementioned role players seeing less time, at least in conference play. Early in the season it is definitely important to get the younger guys minutes, but playing them all together against the number two defense in the country was an unwise move by Turgeon. As conference play approaches this weekend, it will be interesting to see if Turgeon deploys these role players and when.
The Aaron Wiggins break out game?
Aaron Wiggins has had a solid start to his freshman campaign for Maryland, but he also came in with high expectations as the 42nd ranked recruit on ESPN.com. He started the night off just 1-3 but provided a spark in the second half, scoring 11 points and converting on all three of his attempts from deep.
All season long the Terps have been looking for a shooter on the wing to fill the void left by Kevin Huerter, and tonight in the second half we got glimpses of it from Wiggins. Growing pains are expected from freshmen, so it was super encouraging to see Wiggins play like that on a big stage. If he can continue to light it up from deep, teams will feel less comfortable doubling Fernando in the post, and that could open up a lot for the Terps offense.
Don’t sleep on Virginia
People like to dismiss Tony Bennett and Virginia because they haven’t made a Final Four yet and because they became the first one seed ever to lose to a sixteen seed (although if Deandre Hunter had not broken his hand they would have won that game). But Virginia basketball is a thing of beauty. They lost one game in the ACC last year, which was the best conference in basketball. They have not lost a game in November since 2015 and they consistently deploy one of the nation’s top defenses.
Come March people are going to constantly bring up their failures, but anyone who watched the game tonight saw one of the most talented teams in the country. Deandre Hunter is a freak athlete who can guard multiple positions. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are one of the best shooting backcourts in the country. And guys like Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite are fantastic role players. As far as I am concerned, the ACC still runs through Charlottesville, Virginia.
Lots of positives in a loss
Maryland will come away with their first loss of the season, but they did a lot of things well. Virginia has only allowed over 71 points once in their last 43 games, and Maryland hit the 71 point mark tonight. They were down 17 at one point and rallied to make it a four point game, which for a team with mostly young guys is super impressive. Bruno Fernando continued to dominate inside with another double double. Even in a loss, I thought this was the second best game Maryland has played all year and that bodes really well going into the start of conference play
- Aaron Wiggins was the only Maryland player with a positive plus minus at +6
- Eric Ayala continued his hot shooting from deep, making 3 of his 4 attempts
- Jalen Smith posted season lows in both points (6) and rebounds (5)
- Maryland missed six free throws. They lost by five.
- Maryland only committed three fouls in the first half, their lowest for a half this season.
- Virginia turned the ball over twice and they were both illegal screens. That is surgical.
- Mark Turgeon is now a career 8-41 against top 25 teams in his tenure at Maryland
- The Xfinity Center was sold out for the first time all year, which was nice to see.