EVANSTON, ILL. — The sequence came early in the second half on Tuesday night. Clinging to a two-point halftime lead over Northwestern, struggling to find a rhythm offensively, the Maryland basketball team unleashed a furious run, catalyzed by the depth and balance that Coach Mark Turgeon has crafted through just six games.
With 18 minutes 25 seconds left, Alex Len hit a wing jumper that pushed Maryland’s lead to 30-34. After a three-pointer by Northwestern guard Dave Sobolewski, Len threw down a two-handed baseline slam by the Terrapins bench. On the other end, the Ukrainian stuffed the Wildcats’ Romanian freshman Alex Olah, then hit the front end of an and-one layup, drawing a foul by Olah and stomping off in beast-mode celebration to that same Maryland bench, whose members were being held back by Charles Mitchell, who deployed his full wingspan for the mock protection.
In response, the Wildcats called a quick timeout following a James Padgett layup that pushed the Terrapins’ lead to 40-33. After hearing calls from his assistants to pull a tired Len, Turgeon subbed in Mitchell, and Dez Wells promptly took over.
With a Padgett dunk pushing the Terps’ lead to 42-34, Wells canned a three-pointer and stuck an acrobatic layup that moved the margin to double digits. Len soloed a 6-3 run, giving way to Wells’s 5-0 run.
Then, mere minutes later, the Wildcats switched to a 1-3-1 zone, forcing the issue on the perimeter but leaving Logan Aronhalt wide open for corner jumpers. The Albany transfer, who scored a season-high 12 points against Georgia Southern on Saturday, continued to prove his worth as a bench gunner, sticking three three-pointers in less than three minutes, each one another dagger into Northwestern’s purple coffin as Maryland pulled away for a 77-57 rout.
“We’ve got so many good players,” Aronhalt said. “Someone’s bound to have a good night every single night. Someone’s going to go off. Alex was playing well, Dez started playing well, then they went to the zone and things opened up for me. We do such a good job of playing off each other. We like to go inside, they have to get on Alex. They have to double Alex. It’s so hard to guard him straight up, because it opens things for the guards.”
Rotating 10 players is nothing new this season for Turgeon, who has at times shuttled in five substitutes at one time. But the Terps have trended away from that in recent games, riding the hot hand rather than liberally subbing to keep players happy and fresh. Jake Layman played just three minutes Tuesday night, Aronhalt played 11 and Mitchell, Seth Allen and Shaquille Cleare all logged 13.
Meanwhile, Wells (career-high 23 points), Nick Faust (10 points, six rebounds) and point guard Pe’Shon Howard all played more 30 minutes, marking just the second time this season when three players have played at least 30 minutes. Against LIU-Brooklyn, Len, Howard and Wells all tallied more than 30.
“I told [Dez] and Nick, I was going to ride them, I was going to play them a lot,” Turgeon said. “We’re not going to sub to keep people happy. We’re going to sub to win the game.”
As Turgeon’s comfort level grows, so too does his feel for what works on any given night. Allen and Layman weren’t providing quality minutes, Turgeon thought, so he stuck primarily with the starters, even though Maryland’s bench outscored Northwestern’s 23-7. On other nights, it may be any number of the Terps’ four freshmen who star. But in the latest installment of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, it was Wells, Len and Aronhalt who provided the spark.
“We’ve got a good team,” Turgeon said. “We haven’t played like it all year until tonight. We’ve got good players. Good thing is, we’ve got the luxury to find the right guys to plug in, instead of having to go with the same six or seven like we did last year.”
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Box score: Maryland 77, Northwestern 57