As his Maryland teammates hoisted him from the court, Jonathan Graham pounded his chest and screamed so loud everyone in Verizon Center could hear. There were 17 minutes left in Sunday’s game against George Washington, and the Terrapins were behind by 13 points, and Graham sensed they needed a boost. So he drove baseline, met Isaiah Armwood near the paint, rose up, absorbed contact and threw the basketball into the hoop.
That Graham felt compelled, in that moment, to unleash such energy said plenty about both him and Maryland’s sluggish state. Those yells, while ultimately failing to jolt the Terps at the time, represented an exceedingly rare moment of outward emotion from a team that had displayed such little life in a 77-75 loss during the BB&T Classic.
“Huge lift,” forward Jake Layman said. “He brought so much intensity. His rebounding, the and-one was huge for us. He got us going.”
Graham transferred to Maryland from Penn State with few expectations. In College Park, he would finish his career as a preferred walk-on. This season, a dearth of scholarship players meant Graham earned one. Next season, when a four-man, top-five recruiting class arrives, Graham likely will be taken off.
No matter. He knows his role, even if until Sunday it existed solely as a scout-team look and garbage-time post player after earning an NCAA waiver to become eligible immediately. But Charles Mitchell and Shaq Cleare were in foul trouble. Coach Mark Turgeon needed a boost. So he sent in Graham.
“I was prepared for however many minutes I was going to play,” Graham said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be however many it was tonight, or just five or two minutes. It didn’t matter. I just prepared like I do normally for every game.”
Turns out, Graham was needed for 15 minutes, by far a season-high. In fact, he had combined for just 19 minutes in five previous games, and the junior hadn’t played 15 minutes since Feb. 9, 2013 against Nebraska.
Graham justified Turgeon’s confidence – he played four more minutes than Cleare – with five points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. For reference, Cleare has blocked only two shots this season; Mitchell has swatted five. Graham defended well, set strong screens and made all three free-throw attempts.
“I thought Jonathan Graham gave us great minutes, played hard, we raised our intensity up a level because of him,” Turgeon said.
Enough to justify more playing time? Given Maryland’s surplus on the wing, frontcourt minutes are at a premium this season. Cleare only averages 17.2 per game and Mitchell receives 20.0. But it will be impossible for Turgeon to ignore the fury Graham brought to an otherwise listless team on Sunday, or the production Graham enjoyed while providing that emotional lift.
“All I’m really worried about is what’s best for the team,” Graham said. “If it means my minutes go up for us to win, then so be it. If not, and I’m where I might be tonight, for spot plays or things like that, as long as we’re winning games that’s what I’m about.
>> Turgeon shook up the starting lineup by switching Varun Ram in for Nick Faust. It didn’t go so well. Ram immediately fouled on George Washington’s first possession, then committed a turnover, then fouled again.
The junior eventually played 11 minutes and hit a huge three-pointer from the right corner with five minutes left that brought Maryland within 11 points.
Freshman Roddy Peters was more impressive, and continued to build a case to start. He played 19 minutes, scored 11 points, handed out three assists, swiped three steals and committed just two turnovers. He was aggressive as the free safety on Maryland’s diamond press, and had two steals in the final three minutes as the Terps made their big run.
“I thought he just played,” Turgeon said. “Defensively he did some nice things, had the big steal there at half-court. I think our whole team got aggressive when they started to feel it.”
Peters still has plenty to learn, including what to do when zone defenses simply stop guarding him on the perimeter like the Colonials did during the second half.
>> Turgeon was asked about the technical foul he received while arguing a call against Faust. It clearly still irked him, but he held back.
“Oh boy,” he said. “I can’t really say what I want to say. I was just trying to make it fair.”
>> One quote, apropos of nothing, that wasn’t mentioned in the postgame scrum: “We even talked about huddles,” Turgeon said. “Our huddles were better tonight. Might not mean much to you guys. They mean a lot to me.”