BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson likened Thursday night’s ACC slugfest to one of his favorite films, “Shawshank Redemption.” Over the past three games, the Hokies have led Maryland, Miami and North Carolina at halftime, only to falter late. The script felt repetitive. Virginia Tech scrapped and fought, only to wind up on the losing end.
The sentiment was mutual. Maryland has struggled in road games ever since conference play began, losing four straight and eight consecutive dating back to last season. This season, the Terrapins had stumbled out of the gates (North Carolina), collapsed down the stretch (Miami), were out-muscled in crunch time (Duke) and crushed in the final seconds (Florida State). So yes, it was about time they took care of business away from College Park.
It wasn’t pretty. Few ACC road games will ever be. But after all manner of heartbreak and frustration for Coach Mark Turgeon’s young team, scoring a 60-55 win was at once a baby step and a big moment.
“It feels like we haven’t won one of these in forever,” Dez Wells said. “Which we haven’t. It’s a really good feeling going home with a win.”
At halftime, Turgeon challenged his players to quit being “pouters” and become “men.” The Terps entered the break with just one field goal – a James Padgett hook shot – in the final 10 minutes, but still only trailed the Hokies by three points. Maryland emerged hot from the chute in both halves, bursting to an 11-point lead 10 minutes into the game and an eight-point lead early in the second half. But both times Virginia Tech, which dropped its fifth straight, clawed back.
“I thought we were rolling early,” Turgeon said. “We had 21, I was like we’re going to get to 70 or 80 tonight. We had one field goal last 10 minutes of the half. We did what we had to do to win the game. Controlled most of the second half. Just had trouble making shots. We were getting good looks. Just had trouble finishing. But it’s never easy when you’re trying to grow up as a team.”
The Terps killed two birds with one stone Thursday night. They scored an ACC road win, their first in exactly one year since taking down Clemson last February, and did so in a grinder. Jake Layman, who’s become a serial Virginia Tech-torcher, backed up his 20-point performance on Jan. 5 with 14 points and five rebounds. Alex Len chipped in 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks, and Padgett, starting for the second straight game in a mini-rejuvenated stretch, added eight points and 11 rebounds.
“It’s big,” Turgeon said. “Especially the way we had to do it. Crowd was in it. They make a run at us. They have a great player in Green who can make any shot he attempts. It will go a long way for us going forward. We’re back to .500, 17-6. It’s good. It’s good for this young team. We’ve got a lot of basketball left.”
Perhaps most importantly, Maryland made free throws late. Nick Faust had bricked two at Florida State, setting up Michael Snaer’s game-winner, but hit two clutch ones Thursday. Len did the same, while both Seth Allen and Wells made one of two. Even after that, the Terps still missed 13 of 23 from the line.
They withstood 29 points from former Paul VI All-Met Green (10 of 23 shooting) and 14 from Cadarian Raines, including a few nifty up-and-unders past Len, mostly because Jarell Eddie and Robert Brown combined to make just 2 of 17 from the field. And in the final 1:28, after Green drilled a pull-up jumper to cut the lead to 54-53, they held strong defensively, forcing a missed layup from Robert Brown that Faust snagged and stepped to the line to clinch.
“It’s a good step for us moving forward,” Padgett said. “Last week, we came up short. This right here, it was a confidence boost for the young guys and everyone on the team.”