EVANSTON, ILL. — Extrapolating the second-half effort put forth Tuesday night by the Maryland basketball team into a 40-minute affair may take some time for these young Terrapins, as they grow together and continue to absorb personal tendencies on a daily basis. Eleven first-half turnovers won’t cut it once Atlantic Coast Conference play rolls around, and neither will shooting 36 percent from the field, especially away from home.
But given how quickly Maryland blew out Northwestern once the pieces finally fit, the Terps could be a scarily dangerous bunch down the road.
Entering halftime with a two-point lead, Maryland returned to its bread-and-butter inside-out game, turning a narrow margin into a 77-57 runaway victory, its fifth straight since the season-opener against Kentucky.
“It was almost a perfect second half for us,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “It was a good team win. They were a confident team, 6-0 when we came in here. We knew it was going to be tough. Didn’t think it would be like this. I was proud of our guys.”
Consider the following: the Terps had 44 points in the paint, 14 from the free-throw line and 15 from three-point range, meaning they made just two shots in between the paint and the arc. Dez Wells shot 9 for 11 from the field for a career-high 23 points, and even he missed two running floaters in the lane. Alex Len turned it on with 13 points and 13 rebounds, including a dominating sequence that included a soft jumper, a dunk, a blocked shot, an and-one off a transition set and what Turgeon later called “barking at the ceiling,” a phrase the Ukrainian center had never ever heard.
Maryland struggled to solve Northwestern’s collapsed matchup zone in the first half, the type of sagging defense the Terps figure to expect from opponents moving forward given Len’s utter dominance in one-on-one situations. Rather than attack, Maryland resorted to dribble-handoffs early, seeking open lanes, but the Wildcats effectively switched at every turn.
Coming out of halftime, however, Turgeon implored his players to make a major change, insisting they make entry passes right out of transition. What followed was a 19-8 run that ballooned the lead to double digits, backing Northwestern into a corner out of which it never emerged. After halftime, the Terps shot 66.7 percent from the field, picking their spots carefully and wearing down a Wildcats team that simply couldn’t keep up against their future Big Ten opponent.
“We’re getting all these stops, and running down there and not doing anything with it except dribbling,” Turgeon said. “We were struggling, so we tried to spread them out and use the drive. We’re about inside-out. That’s the way our team is built this year. We did that in the second half. We played inside-out. Our defense was pretty phenomenal. Our rebounding was pretty phenomenal. It takes a lot of pressure away from your offense when you rebound and play defense like that.
“I’d like to say it was a great speech, but it was just a few things we did that gave us confidence to start the second half.”
Maryland entered ranked second in the nation in rebounding margin, and dominated the Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan arena, outrebounding the Wildcats 47-19. Much of that had to do with Northwestern’s Princeton offense, which relies on perimeter motion and rarely packs enough players into the lane to have a shot at offensive rebounds, as well as the Wildcats’ 6-for-25 performance from three-point range, which just dropped rebounds into Maryland’s lap.
Still, when Northwestern contested on the glass, Len was there to clean up, finishing with a career-high in rebounds and his second double-double of his sophomore season. Shaquille Cleare played 13 solid minutes off the bench, his best of the year Turgeon said, while James Padgett was 4 for 5 from the field, upping his field-goal percentage to .615.