All the scoffing at Maryland’s soft non-conference schedule gained traction after the Terrapins’ weak showings in consecutive losses to Florida State and Miami. Consistently out-muscled and at times out-hustled, perhaps this team was not adequately prepared for ACC competition.
It’s true that Maryland needed some luck to beat North Carolina State on Wednesday night. It needed three defenders to dive at a falling Pe’Shon Howard, who had made three field goals through nearly four ACC games, rather than body up 7-foot-1 Alex Len at the rim. Had the Terps lost, it would have been another devastating blow, especially with road games looming at North Carolina, Duke and Florida State later this month. Instead, they take away some confidence after beating a Wolfpack team that had upset the nation’s top-ranked team just four days earlier.
“Yeah we’d have been fragile,” Turgeon said, pondering the hypothetical. “We were fragile during this one. But I said it after … it would have been tough for all of us. I said after the Miami game, we got better in that game. We got better, and we competed. That’s a step in the right direction. Right now, I said we’ve got to hang our hat on defense, keep guarding, keep rebounding, and hope we can outscore them by one.
The Terps hadn’t exactly fared well in close games this season. They eked out a win over Stony Brook after seeing a 20-point second-half lead collapse, and beat George Mason by single digits at Verizon Center. But a furious late comeback versus Kentucky fell short, a sizable lead against Florida State disappeared thanks to Okaro White and the Hurricanes pulled away late Sunday.
“I just think, this isn’t any fun,” Turgeon said. “You’re looking up, it’s 14-10 with five to go. This is no fun. But you’ve got to win the game. In the end, it’s a win against a really good team. This is where we are right now.
“Because it was a grinder, a grinder against Florida State in the second half, Miami was a grinder, we were used to it. Our guys were really determined to come out on top. We got a little lucky, but we’ll take it.”
This time, Maryland hung tough, trading blow after blow until Len got the last laugh. North Carolina State’s 2-3 zone defense baffled the Terrapins, whose post game disappeared in the second half, allowing the Wolfpack ovecome a 10-point deficit to tie the score with 5:13 to play on a layup by Richard Howell. Scott Wood then MADE a three-pointer 38 seconds later, giving N.C. State its first lead of the evening.
An alley-oop from Howard to Len gave Maryland the lead back, but Lorenzo Brown splashed a mid-range jumper with less than two minutes left. Len turned over the ball on the other end, but the Terps responded with a strong defensive sequence, allowing the Wolfpack to bleed the clock – and even snatch an offensive rebound – before James Padgett drew an over-the-back foul from Howell.
“That was one of our keys: Play with confidence,” Seth Allen said. “Some guys lose confidence; some guys maintain it. I feel like it was a big weight lifted off our shoulders, because we could have lost three in a row, but we did a good job coming back to get this win. Down-to-the-wire games, we haven’t been playing well, but this one we pulled it away.
“It helps us tremendously. Games like this put our team more and more together. We’re just going to move on from here. It was a great win, we’ve got North Carolina on Saturday, so we’ll just prepare for them and try to keep this run going.”
Maryland failed to properly execute any set play off a timeout, even after Turgeon has already scaled back on play-calling because “they can’t consume it all.” Maryland’s coach was typically blunt in the postgame news conference, even drawing a question wondering if winning this way was even a good thing.
“No, it’s a good thing,” Turgeon said. “The guys know me. I’m honest. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. You look at our schedule: We’re at North Carolina, then Boston College, at Duke, at Florida State, we needed that one. That was just a gut-check and our young guys …we call it a hugger. Guys were hugging in the locker room.”