Maryland-Denver postgame: Five-guard lineup sparks Terps into NIT quarterfinals


(Associated Press)

Six weeks ago, this would have either been a disaster, or never happened at all. Six weeks ago, the time everyone now points to as the tipping point for Maryland, Coach Mark Turgeon wouldn’t have dared insert a five-guard lineup. It was too risky, the players too individualistic. Asking five guards to operate out of the system and play free-form basketball was asking for an implosion.

But this is a new Terps team, an adaptable group that can slog through 32 frustrating minutes against Denver before asked to do something they hadn’t practice all season – and actually succeed. Once Turgeon pulled James Padgett and inserted Pe’Shon Howard, Maryland abandoned its size advantage and began to roll, ultimately to a 62-52 victory that kept its season alive.

“What we did is we played with poise,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Normally when I give them that much freedom, they go crazy. But the last four weeks they haven’t. Give the guys credit. We knew Dez [Wells] had a mismatch. Fouled, three-point play, then they doubled and got Jake [Layman] the three-pointer. Dez was our best post-up player all night. Guys played smart. Guys are getting it. They’re figuring it out. They just want to win. Winning’s most important than individualism. That was fun. Nerve-wracking until about the eight-minute mark, but it was fun in the end.”

Wells was again the workhorse, finishing with a team-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He’s averaging 19.3 points over the past nine games and shooting 56.3 percent from the field. Once the Terps went small, he turned into a back-down center, mismatched all night against Denver’s guards.

“I felt if I got the ball in a position to make plays, I was going to do that,” Wells said, in typically humble and deferential fashion. “Regardless of where I got the ball, I was going to do something to help my team out, whether it was passing it, or drawing a foul or making a play for somebody else, just do whatever it takes to win.”

For one night, that meant hastily returning to the drawing board and throwing five guards into the fire, while Alex Len (season-low 14 minutes), James Padgett, Charles Mitchell and Shaq Cleare all watched from the bench. They couldn’t guard Denver’s Chris Udofia (game-high 24 points), ceding backdoor cuts to the quicker swingman. So when Brett Olson stuck an acrobatic and-one layup, drawing the foul from Jake Layman with 10 minutes and 11 seconds left in the game, Turgeon did something he hadn’t done since coaching the University of Kansas junior varsity.

Faust finished with 12 points and hit 7 of 9 free throws, continuing his own personal reinvention. Seth Allen stepped up in isolation scenarios, burning by his defender for a crucial layup with four minutes left that gave the Terps the lead for good. Even Layman got in on the action late, netting his only field-goal on a crazy banked three-pointer from the left wing.

All under the umbrella of “whatever it takes.”

“We know we’re going to have to do things we’ve never done before to keep advancing,” senior Logan Aronhalt said. “Fortunately, that was putting five guards on the floor at the same time. With their personnel, we had to do that to guard them and get our offense going against a defense that was very good against post players. I’m assuming they’ve done that all year. It was really good. Shut down our post guys. We just had to try something else. Whatever we were doing wasn’t working for us.”

In a one-and-done tournament, flexibility bodes well for these Terps. They’ll need it next Tuesday, especially if they travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to face top-seeded Alabama. The Crimson Tide face No. 4 Stanford on Saturday night. Win and Maryland hits the road. If the Cardinal triumph, the Terps get a third straight home game, with a trip to Madison Square Garden on the line.

“We were desperate,” Turgeon said. “We couldn’t guard them. They had complete control of the game. Our post guys couldn’t’ score against them. So let’s spread them out, try to drive and get to the foul line. There’s no tomorrow. Now there is. There wasn’t. So you went with what your gut told you to do, and we got it done.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt | March 21, 2013