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No. 18 UConn knocks off Maryland 78-77 at the Barclays Center

Nov 8, 2013, 9:09 PM EDT

UConn Maryland Basketball AP

For the second time in two seasons, Maryland saw their bid for an upset at the Barclays Center on the season’s opening night fall just short.

And for the second time in two seasons, it was the surprising play of a relative unknown that made the difference. Last season, Kentucky pulled out a 72-69 win thanks to the play of back up point guard Jarrod Polson down the stretch. On Friday night, UConn hung on to a 78-77 win thanks to big plays from Niels Giffey (13 first half points), Tyler Olander (a huge three with just under two minutes left) and Amida Brimah (the game-winning rebounder).

We just about got what we expected from Maryland. That’s a good basketball team, but they’re going to have some issues until they figure out their point guard situation. Dez Wells is a talent, but he’s stifled when he’s asked to run the point. That’s not his game. Where he thrives is in transition and attacking the basket, and when Maryland made their comeback late in the second half — they almost erased a 67-50 deficit — it was Wells that sparked the run. He finished with 13 points, seven boards and six assists but committed six turnovers.

So what’s the answer for the Terps? Well, they need freshman Roddy Peters to grow into that point guard role quickly. The youngster had a couple of flashy plays in his first game, but he was a bit inconsistent.

UConn looked like they might actually be able to compete with Louisville and Memphis for the AAC title for about the first 30 minutes on Friday. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright were as good as we expected them to be, but more notably was the play of Giffey. The 6-foot-7 wing spent his summer playing with the German national team, and it looks like he’s picked up some confidence. Giffey had 13 first half points, hitting three threes in the process.

We know that the Huskies have talented guards. That’s not a surprise. What was surprising was that UConn actually got some production in the middle. They weren’t dominant on the glass by any means, but guys like Olander and Philip Nolan came up with some timely offensive rebounds and did a good enough job on the defensive glass to slow down Maryland’s big men.

But it was Amida Brimah that was the revelation. A seven-foot freshman from Ghana, Brimah wasn’t expected to do much this year, but he came in and blocked three shots, threw down a dunk in transition and, most importantly, grabbed a rebound after Dez Wells missed a jumper in the final seconds.

We also saw why having a guard-heavy offense will be an issue for the Huskies. Many of their late-game possessions resulted in draining the shot clock and hoping that Boatright or Napier would be able to create a bucket going one-on-one.

Napier, Boatright, Giffey, Omar Calhoun, and Lasan Kromah are good enough that the Huskies will be able to compete with just about anyone in the country.

The key is in the middle, and what UConn got from their bigs tonight can only be called promising.

  1. @Cereal_22 - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:21 AM

    It’s tough to be a Terps fan

  2. tomtravis76 - Nov 9, 2013 at 2:24 AM

    Terps looked real sloppy. They played like a rec ball team. But heart and grind helped them get back in it. They didn’t quit, which is a nice sign for a team, but moral victories are still L’s.

    The point for sure is an early issue, but Turge likes to schedule fairly soft until ACC play, so that will work itself out, just as long as Faust stays away from PG duties.

    And anytime a MD guard sees Evan Smotrycz dribbling the ball up the court, please get it out of his hands. That was painful watching him attempt those ugly crossovers(they looked like moves from ’91 Sega Lakers vs Bulls). Now he has nice touch, but stop trying to be a guard

    The MD bigs have had hype now for the second straight season, they need to act like catching the ball is not something new, and rebounding is their job not some grunt task. Mitchell did have a nice twinkle toes spin move showing off his minor bit of athleticism.

    Just keep it together because Melo Trimble is on his way next season. He is lights out. Inside the gym range.

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