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Friday, November 9, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Kentucky 72, Maryland 69

By Kieran Darcy



NEW YORK -- On the first night of college basketball at the brand-new, $1 billion Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, No. 3 Kentucky topped Maryland 72-69 in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732.

What it means: Just seven months after winning the national championship, the Wildcats look almost entirely different after six players were selected in this past summer's NBA draft. Coach John Calipari started three freshmen (forwards Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress and guard Archie Goodwin) and two sophomores (forward Kyle Wiltjer and guard Ryan Harrow). The new group was impressive, particularly in the first half. But the hero was an unlikely one (see below).

Maryland, picked to finish sixth in the ACC, looks like a scrappy bunch capable of surprising some people.

The skinny: The game was tight early, the score tied at 9, until the Wildcats began to put some distance between themselves and the Terrapins. Kentucky led by as many as 15 in the first half, and the score was 49-36 at intermission.

With Kentucky leading 53-38 early in the second half, Maryland erupted on a 15-0 run, tying the game on a dunk by Shaquille Cleare with a little under 12 minutes remaining. The Terps took their first lead since early in the first half at 59-57, after a trey by Seth Allen with just over eight minutes left. Things stayed tight the rest of the way.

With Kentucky leading 70-69, reserve guard Jarrod Polson drained two clutch free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining to make it 72-69. On the final play of the game, Maryland guard Pe'Shon Howard missed a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Star watch: Wiltjer, the one Kentucky starter who was on the team last season, finished with a team-high 19 points, shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the 3-point arc. Goodwin added 16 points. Noel, widely regarded as the top high school recruit in the nation, had four points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.

But the MVP of the game was the unheralded Polson, who manned the point in place of an ineffective Harrow. Polson, who played just 31 minutes all of last season, had 10 points, three assists and no turnovers -- plus those critical free throws.

For Maryland, sophomore center Alex Len had an outstanding game, with 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Numbers crunch: Maryland shot 0-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half, and 3-for-19 overall (15.8 percent). Kentucky, on the other hand, was 6-for-13 (46.2 percent) from long range.

What's next: Kentucky will head to Atlanta, where it takes on No. 8 Duke Tuesday night in the Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome.

Maryland will host Morehead State on Monday night back in College Park.