Come one, come all. Welcome folks, to the Carnival at Comcast Center. So step right up and spin the Maryland men’s basketball team’s Wheel of Emotions. Will it land on Unbridled Joy, like the Terrapins experienced one week ago when an 83-81 win over second-ranked Duke sparked a heart-pounding court storm and pumped life into Maryland’s NCAA tournament chances?
Or will the wheel tick to Frustration? Disappointment, perhaps? Both were apt nouns to describe the aftermath of Maryland’s losses to Virginia and Boston College. Coach Mark Turgeon called the former “rock bottom.” The latter felt worse.
These lovable yet inconsistent Terps have navigated a minefield over the past two weeks, experiencing the herky-jerky ups and downs typically consistent with amusement park rides. With such recent flair for the dramatic, Maryland needed to coast against Clemson in a 72-59 decision. It needed breakaway dunks and minimal mistakes. Most importantly, on a dreary afternoon with a lethargic crowd, it needed to return to the emotional middle ground.
“After the Duke win, we were at an all-time high,” freshman Charles Mitchell said. “After Boston College, we were at a low, like what are we doing, we can’t have the ups and downs, knowing the postseason’s coming soon. We have to win consistently. Getting this win really boosts our confidence more, knowing we have two road games back to back next week.”
Maryland now needs to catch fire to improve its shaky NCAA tournament resume. The Terps haven’t strung together a three-game winning streak or a two-game losing streak since ACC play began. By nature, they are consistently inconsistent.
But everything came together against the Tigers, albeit in the blandest way possible. Maryland committed a season-low eight turnovers. Nick Faust shot 7 for 10 from the field and posted a season-high 18 points. Alex Len and Dez Wells combined for just 13 points, but it mattered little. The Terps got 33 points from their four freshmen and 42 points inside. Though they somehow shot better from the three-point line (40 percent) than they did at the free throw stripe (37.5 percent), their depth and full-court pressure defense finally wore Clemson down.
“It’s great to have depth,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “And we won this game today because we have depth. We flat wore them out. And as you head down to the end of the season, you want all your guys playing with confidence. [Jake] Layman’s playing with confidence, Logan [Aronhalt]’s playing with confidence, Nick’s playing with confidence. It’s good to see and it’s good to have options.”
For some time, the emotional options seemed binary. Maryland either won dramatically or lost brutally. Entering halftime up just three points after squandering a 10-point lead, Saturday seemed destined for a similar outcome.
The Terps kicked things up a notch after former coach Lefty Driesell was honored with an standing ovation at the intermission. Balanced scoring ruled the day, but a 7-0 run clinched the rout.
“To score 72 points against them is a lot of points,” Turgeon said. “I am really pleased with the win. We bounced back. I’m proud of the guys, a lot of guys played well. We did it as a team. It’s good for us.”
Maryland now gets consecutive road games at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Minutes after the Terps won Saturday, the Demon Deacons sealed a stunning blowout of No. 2 Miami, creating another unexpectedly stiff test as the season winds down.
For now, though, Maryland will enjoy the comforts of home, brought on by a necessary, stabilizing win.
“For us, I feel like this game was a good game for us to settle down and focus on not turning the ball over, which we didn’t do, and rebound and defend. It was great for us,” Layman said.
Said Faust: “This is definitely a bounce-back game for us. It’ll help our confidence moving forward, just having that positive attitude. Hopefully we take it into Georgia Tech and get the win there.”