In their first open scrimmage last October under Mark Turgeon, the Maryland basketball team appeared unfit for play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. What a difference a year makes.
Saturday at Comcast Center, in 20 impressive minutes, the Terps looked like a legitimate Division I power, showing size, strength, quickness, and depth. And if the most explosive man on the floor, Dez Wells, is cleared to play this season, Maryland will have legitimate hopes for a major improvement over last year’s 17-15 season.
In scoring a game-high 15 points, Wells looked like a finished product, unstoppable in the open floor, and solid on the perimeter. The 6-5 swingman, a sophomore transfer from Xavier, streaked for five layups, most of them contested. He also hit a 3-pointer and a 15-footer in going 7-of-7 from the floor.
“He made shots today and he’s great on the break. It was kind of his day out there,” Turgeon said. “That was probably his best performance. The lights came on for him.”
In the scrimmage won by the White Team over the Red, 31-29, the winners were led by 7-2 sophomore Alex Len (seven points), who looked powerful and poised, while sophomore Nick Faust (10 points) teamed well in the backcourt with point guard Pe’Shon Howard (three points, two assists), who showed quickness and presence coming off of knee surgery.
“I was pleased,” Turgeon said. “For Pe’Shon to be this far along already is really encouraging. He made a big 3 out there. He really looks good for only being going for about three weeks.”
Senior guard Logan Aronhalt (four points, two assists), a transfer from Albany, demonstrated a smooth stroke and comfort in the offense. Among the freshmen who excelled were 6-8 Charles Mitchell (one point, six rebounds), who was active and disruptive, 6-8 Jake Layman (five points), who left early with an apparent ankle sprain, and 6-1 Seth Allen (five points, three assists, three turnovers), who showed ability to get to the rim and to play on the perimeter.
“Seth is an explosive scorer. Sometimes he still thinks he’s with his high school team,” Turgeon said. “He can score. He’s just got to make good decisions, which we’ll teach him.”
The prize recruit of the freshman class, 6-9 Shaquille Cleare, failed to score, taking only one shot, but was an imposing defensive presence inside.
After the White Team bolted to a 15-2 lead behind starters Len, Faust, Howard, Layman, and Mitchell, Red Team players Evan Smotrycz and Aronhalt triggered a rally with 3-pointers. Then Wells went to work, scoring eight of the next 10 points for the Red.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Howard and John Auslander (eight points) put the White in control in the closing minutes before the Red drew even on a 3-pointer by Allen. Faust, however, followed with a 3-pointer with 1:35 left that put the White up for good, 29-26.
Smotrycz, a 6-9 transfer from Michigan who is sitting out this season, had a chance to win it for the Red, but his contested 25-footer bounded off the rim.
“We got away with some bad decisions,” Turgeon said. “But there were some flashes.”
After a day off, Maryland continues practice on Monday. The Terps play an exhibition at Comcast against Division II Indiana (Pa.) on Nov. 2, followed by the season opener the following Friday in Brooklyn against defending national champion Kentucky.
Until then, one of the top priorities will be to get Wells cleared as he has requested a waiver from the NCAA requirement to sit out a year.
“It’s coming to that window of time,” Turgeon said. “We should hear something this week.”
At this time last year, Maryland was still in the dark on the status of Len, who was eventually cleared to play in late December. As Wells showed on Saturday, his status may determine how far the Terps can go this year.
Even without him, Maryland is much deeper and has a chance for serious improvement. Turgeon said if the season started today that he would rotate nine players.
“You ask me who’s starting? I think Alex Len’s starting,” Turgeon said. “After that I really don’t know.”
Trying to figure out a starting lineup is one of the nice problems for Turgeon after struggling to find five who deserved it a year ago.