On Thursday, when Maryland’s 11-point lead at Virginia Tech had turned into a three-point deficit at halftime, Coach Mark Turgeon saw somber faces in the cramped Cassell Coliseum locker room. So he lit into the Terps with some old-fashioned zeal, telling them to quit pouting and become men.
Clearly, the motivational tactic worked, at least to a certain extent. Maryland knocked the Hokies back from the outset and never trailed again, even though it nearly gave away another ACC road game in the process.
But don’t start touting the halftime speech as a breakthrough moment for the Terps, who won their first conference road game in exactly one year. They’re plenty happy to forget and ratchet up the energy again for Sunday’s home matchup with Virginia. The Cavaliers enter at 6-3 in the ACC, and the Terps can move above .500 in conference play with a win at Comcast Center, which would be their third straight.
“We weren’t really jumping for joy in the locker room the other night,” Turgeon said Saturday. “We missed a lot of free throws. We were really good defensively at the end, but we didn’t play our best game, which is encouraging because we came out on top.
“Yeah, I think it gave us a shot in the arm going forward. We needed it. Obviously that’s an understatement. We needed it. Guys had great energy today in practice and I think they’re ready to go.”
Dez Wells admitted he had received some ire from Turgeon after sulking at the intermission of the Virginia Tech game. The sophomore entered halftime with one point, three assists, three rebounds and two turnovers. He finished with eight points, nine rebounds, five assists and four turnovers. Maryland’s unquestioned emotional leader since arriving in August, Wells has quickly earned the trust of his teammates, leading them in huddles and on the floor.
“It’s really unfair,” Turgeon said. “You come here in August, you don’t know you’re going to play until November. It’s really unfair to him. I told him that when I was jumping on him. I said: ‘This is where we are. It’s not fair to you. But you’re our emotional leader. When your chin’s down, everyone’s chin’s down.’
“It’s more about that. I think he’s handled it well. He handled it well in the second half. I think as the year’s gone on, we have more guys growing up, which helps quickly. I think he handled the halftime speech well, did a great job in the second half. It’s the stretch run here. There’s not a lot left. We’re down to eight and he’s got to step up be a great leader.”
As Wells goes, so do his teammates. The swingman has proved himself plenty capable of taking over games, especially on the road when Maryland’s offense lags behind. He can energize the Terps with a coast-to-coast layup or a thunderous block. But the flipside also holds true.
“I know the guys look up to Dez,” guard Logan Aronhalt said. “He’s probably our biggest talker on the team, and they really listen to him. When he puts his head down, guys think, ‘Aw shoot, things aren’t going our way.’ When he’s into it, we’re all into it.”
Said guard Nick Faust: “Guys feed off Dez’s energy. If he’s not energized, we feel that we have to push him or we have to get energized as a team. He definitely has a vocal-leading perspective on the team.”
The halftime speech, Turgeon said, was more about reminding the players to stay positive and play team-first basketball. They responded with a blistering run that regained the lead and ultimately resulted in their first win this season after trailing at halftime.
“I thought we responded pretty well,” Aronhalt said. “Seems with this team, we always have one or two guys with their heads down, thinking things aren’t going their way. To be great, we have to have all guys gung ho at all points in the game. We can’t have anyone hanging their heads. Especially the starters and the ones we rely on.”
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