Non-freshmen help Kentucky edge Maryland
by Kyle Tucker, USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK — John Calipari called preseason voters “goofballs” for ranking his young University of Kentucky basketball team third in the country to start. The Wildcats wasted no time confirming their coach’s doubts. Despite unusual size, UK was crushed on the boards and narrowly survived Maryland with a 72-69 win in Friday night’s season opener for both sides.
The Terrapins roared back from a 13-point halftime deficit despite shooting just 33 percent from the field. They did it in part because of a 54-38 rebounding edge, including 28 offensive boards. The last one nearly cost the Wildcats when Maryland 7-footer Alex Len grabbed his own missed free throw and put it back in to slice UK’s lead to a point with 8.9 seconds left.
But salvation for the Wildcats came from an unexpected place: former walk-on point guard Jarrod Polson. In a surprise turn, he played 22 minutes and scored six of his 10 points in the game’s final five minutes. Polson sank the clinching free throws with 7.7 seconds left. It didn’t figure to be so tough a start.
When Nerlens Noel caught and slammed a lob from Archie Goodwin early in the second half, Kentucky led 53-38 and appeared to be pulling away. Then a 15-0 Maryland run followed. Jake Layman drained a three-pointer and Shaquille Cleare dunked in the tying points with 11:40 to go in the game.
Soon after, Terps guard Seth Allen sank a pair of 3-pointers in a row and, to the delight of a surprising pro-Maryland crowd at the new billion-dollar Barclays Center, the underdogs led 59-57 with 8:17 remaining. A sea of red roared.
Noel, Kentucky’s hyped freshman center, enjoyed a hot start, but it didn’t last. He won the game’s opening jump ball, immediately sank a hook shot in the lane over the towering Len. Noel had two points, two rebounds and a blocked shot in the first two minutes of his college career.
But he soon found foul trouble – as did most of his fellow UK starters. Kyle Wiltjer, Alex Poythress and Ryan Harrow had two fouls apiece after only … [For more on Non-freshmen help Kentucky edge Maryland, click here.]