Sixth-ranked Maryland faces perhaps its toughest test of the season Friday night when undefeated George Mason rolls into College Park, Md.
The Terrapins (4-0) are also unbeaten and shredding opponents by an average of 22.8 points per game.
The Patriots (5-0) haven’t had it so easy and are coming off Tuesday night’s 65-61 win over Loyola of Baltimore. Two of George Mason’s wins have been by six points or fewer and another was in overtime.
“We talk a lot about being able to win when we have our ‘A’ game and win when we look ugly offensively,” said Patriots coach Dave Paulsen. “I tell our guys a lot that we’re built to win 52-50 or 82-50. We showed a lot of grit and toughness (against Loyola).”
Maryland’s issue has been starting slowly in every one of its first four games, all at home, as coach Mark Turgeon looks to meld a talented but raw group that includes 10 players who are either freshmen or sophomores. The Terrapins trailed Fairfield several times in the first half before pulling away for a 74-55 victory Tuesday.
“I’m still going to be searching during games now,” said Turgeon, who has tried a few different starting combinations. “I’m still going to be searching to see who six, seven and eight are that night (in the rotation), until we get consistent with it.”
The Terrapins, befitting their lofty ranking, are stacked.
Sophomore forward Jalen Smith leads the team with 15.0 points and 9.3 rebounds, and senior guard Anthony Cowan chips in 12.3 points and 5.5 assists. Sophomore guards Eric Ayala (11.0 points) and Aaron Wiggins (9.5) are next, and defensive stopper Darryl Morsell (9.3) has demonstrated a much more polished offensive game this season.
Ricky Lindo, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, scored a career high 13 points on 6-for-6 shooting and had seven rebounds against the Stags.
“We’re deeper, obviously (than a year ago),” added Turgeon. “We’re getting better. We did some nice things offensively in the half-court, but we’re not there yet.”
Sophomore guard Jordan Miller had 23 points for George Mason against Loyola, including four clutch free throws down the stretch as the Patriots went to 5-0 for the first time in program history. Four Patriots score in double figures — Miller at 15.4, sophomore guard Jamal Hartwell at 13.2, junior guard Javon Greene at 13.0 and junior forward A.J. Wilson at 11.0.
Greg Calixte, a 6-foot-8 junior, gets the unenviable task of matching up with Maryland’s Smith, who is coming off a 17-point, eight-rebound effort against Fairfield. Smith is shooting 54 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free-throw line, and already has 20 trips there through four games.
Maryland was 8 for 21 from 3-point range in the last outing, a marked improvement for a team still hitting only 29 percent from deep on the season. Fairfield hung around much of the game by canning 12 of 25 behind the arc.
Mason has shot 32 percent from deep this season with Greene the most effective bomber, hitting 13 of 34 (38.2 percent).
Maryland is undefeated in the previous eight meetings with Mason. The Patriots are only 2-10 all-time against Top-10 opponents. Both wins came in the 2006 Final Four run when George Mason upset No. 10 North Carolina and No. 2 UConn.
–Field Level Media