It was a told-you-so moment for Coach Mark Turgeon, for all those who believed his Maryland men’s basketball team would simply roll over Stony Brook. This was one of the nonconference mid-majors Turgeon worried about so much, especially since the Terrapins were coming off a nine-day lull between games, filled with nothing but two-a-days and exams.
For some time Friday night, Maryland appeared destined for a signature statement victory against the America East favorites, building up a 20-point lead shortly after halftime. But the Seawolves scrapped and clawed their way back, chopping the margin to single digits before the Terps ultimately closed out a 76-69 win at the free throw line.
But beating Monmouth by 33 points, South Carolina State by 15 and Maryland Eastern-Shore by 32, Turgeon knew Maryland needed a tougher tuneup with ACC play now less than two weeks away.
“I think we needed a close game to see how we’ll handle it,” Turgeon said. “We missed some free throws, made some free throws. I really liked the last four possessions, not exactly sure, the kid hit the three, but we were right there shaking hands with him. The others, we locked him really good and rebounded the ball. Just haven’t been in that situation.
“Some things I need to work on with the lead to make us better. Some things I haven’t added that we’ll add as we move forward. Such a young team, it’s hard to add things. It was good. We’ll have a lot of close games. It was good to have one.”
Maryland set a torrid offensive pace in the first half, building a 13-point lead by halftime thanks to Dez Wells (19 points, six rebounds) and Alex Len (19 points, nine rebounds), but struggled down the stretch with Stony Brook ratcheting up its physicality and fronting Len in the post.
The Terps finished the game with just one field goal in the final five minutes, and that came on Len’s thunderous put-back slam off a missed free throw that gave Maryland a 71-66 lead. This came after the Seawolves saw their deficit swell to 56-36 after an incredibly athletic layup from Wells in transition.
Stony Brook responded with an 11-0 run to cut the lead to single digits, but three-pointers by Seth Allen and Logan Aronhalt brought it back to 62-47. From there, the Seawolves hit a few contested jumpshots, climbing within striking distance.
“Really pleased with the win,” Turgeon said. “We beat a really good team. Now you know I’m not full of it when I said that was a good team we’re going to play. For us to be up 20 on that team shows you we did a lot of things right to get there. Then I thought the game got physical and we didn’t handle that well. Couldn’t score around the basket, couldn’t get second-chance points, then they started to make shots, they got confident. Give them credit. They never quit. Always thought like we’d pull away and win by double digits.”
That Maryland didn’t and still emerged with the program’s 11th 10-game winning streak says plenty about the Terps and their ability to gut out close victories, like Friday night’s and a seven-point win over George Mason on Dec. 2.
“It’s always good to be challenged when you’re playing a competitive sport like this,” Wells said. “We haven’t been as challenged as we would have liked the past couple games. Stony Brook was probably one of the better teams we played this year. They made some tough shots, executed down the stretch. Luckily for us, we locked down at the end. Got some key rebounds, key tips, we were able to come out with the game.”
With the ACC opener against Virginia Tech looming, only nonconference games against Delaware State and IUPUI in between, the Terps can treat this Stony Brook win as the closest tuneup they’ll get. By all accounts, they passed the test.
“It helps a lot,” point guard Pe’Shon Howard said. “That’s what we want to get ready for in the ACC. Now we’re really close to it. We have to get prepared. Virginia Tech, Miami, they’ve been playing close games, they’ve had really good starts to their season. When they come here or we go there, they’re expecting to win. That’s the type of the teams, that’s the mind-set Stony Brook had, and I thought we responded pretty well.”