COLLEGE PARK -- The five players Maryland coach Mark Turgeon puts on the floor to open games haven’t always overwhelmed opponents this season. Rather, it’s been the reinforcements — the steady stream of Terps parading to the scorer’s table to check in when the starters falter.
Turgeon liberally used his bench — one of Maryland’s deepest in years — in an 81-63, New Year’s Day victory over IUPUI to wrap up the Terps’ nonconference schedule. It was Maryland’s 12th straight victory — the team’s longest win streak since 2002.
It was a game in which nearly all of Maryland highlights came from reserves. Turgeon didn’t hesitate to pull out his starters en masse — the equivalent of a line change in hockey — and insert new Terps into the fray.
Maryland’s reserves outscored IUPUI’s bench 43-2.
With the Terps (12-1) trailing 14-3 — and the announced crowd of 8,971 no doubt beginning to wonder what was wrong with the home team — the mass substitutions began. Backups Seth Allen, Shaquille Cleare, Jake Layman and James Padgett all entered the game, and the team’s fortunes began to change.
“I’m really pleased with our depth,” said Turgeon, who also expressed frustration that “we weren’t ready to play” when the game began.
“Lots of guys down 14-3 would be afraid to put in a bunch of freshmen,” Turgeon said. “Our depth is going to help us.”
Maryland’s record is its best entering conference play since 1998-99, when it opened the season 13-1. The Terps begin their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule at home against Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Maryland’s depth advantage — 10 players got at least 14 minutes in the game — made it hard for the Jaguars to keep up in a second half in which IUPUI noticeably slowed down. Injury-depleted IUPUI had only six scholarship players available.
IUPUI employed various zones — triangle-and-two, 1-3-1 — against the larger Terps.
“We needed to keep them on their heels,” IUPUI coach Todd Howard said. “And for very big portions of the game — especially the first 18 minutes — they were really on their heels.”
But backup guard Seth Allen, who led Maryland with 13 points on 4-for-6 from the floor, said he could sense that the Terps would have more than the Jaguars could handle at the end.
“They had six guys in the first half ... and we had 10 guys,” Allen said. “You can tell in the end that we can last longer than most teams.”
Logan Aronhalt had 10 points for the Terps, including three 3-pointers. Sean Esposito had 16 for IUPUI.
Allen gave the Terps their first lead of the day, 20-19, on a bank shot with 7:59 remaining in the first half. Maryland’s bench scored 17 of the team’s 20 points.
Turgeon shifted his lineup in the second half, starting Aronhalt, Allen and forward James Padgett. None had started the contest, but the coach said he wanted to reward the players who had performed best in the first half.
Maryland pulled away in the second half behind another reserve — freshman Shaquille Cleare, who scored three straight Terps’ baskets. He finished with eight points.
“He is posting up harder. He is finishing,” Turgeon said of Cleare. “He wasn’t finishing in the beginning of the year. He is getting in better shape and he is more confident.”
Cleare’s third field goal — a putback with 12:42 left — extended Maryland’s lead to 56-43. It became 59-43 on Pe’Shon Howard’s 3-pointer, and the Terps weren’t threatened after that.
Maryland’s defense noticeably improved in the second half.
The Jaguars (6-12) who moved up to Division I in 1997, shot 52 percent and made six 3-pointers in the first half. They scored only 29 points and made three 3-pointers in the second half.
“When playing against teams like IUPUI or Delaware State, you never know what you’re going to get,” said Maryland forward Dez Wells (nine points). “We pulled the win out and that’s all that matters.”
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times