Mark Turgeon walked into the Comcast Center media room Tuesday night with a smile on his face, like he had just gotten away with something sneaky. In a way, his Maryland men’s basketball team had. Only against a freefalling team like Wake Forest could the Terrapins meander through 40 minutes of sloppy play and emerge with a 71-60 victory.
“Proud of my group,” Turgeon said to open his news conference. “We didn’t have it early. It was pretty obvious. We just kept fighting.”
A positive spin on an ugly game, perhaps. But playing before a marginal weeknight crowd, sandwiched between the emotional loss at Duke and a home date with No. 1 Syracuse, taking the win and moving on will have to suffice.
Maryland received a career-high 20 points from guard Nick Faust, who more than compensated for off nights by Seth Allen (2 for 10), Dez Wells (2 for 8) and Evan Smotrycz (4 for 11). It coaxed 18 turnovers from the Demon Deacons, who have now lost six straight. Freshman Roddy Peters enjoyed a solid 14 minutes, more than his previous three games combined, and Charles Mitchell (12 points) reached double figures for the second straight game.
But for another notch in the win column, which moved the Terps back to .500 in conference play, little more of value can be extracted from this 40-minute snoozer, except that they survived the obvious trap game with minimal resistance after intermission.
“You’re coming off an unbelievable emotional game that rolled out instead of in,” Turgeon said, referring to Mitchell’s hook shot against Duke that barely missed. “No matter how hard you try…we never talked about Duke, we moved on.”
Later, Faust said that though the players didn’t want to admit it, the emotional toll experienced at Cameron Indoor Stadium had continued to weigh on them through the weekend and into Tuesday. It seemed reasonable. The Terps were an unfavorable roll away from ending their rivalry against the Blue Devils with a road victory and finally getting the top-50 victory they have so desperately craved.
So to return home crushed in defeat, into a building with more empty seats than filled ones at tip-off – at one point in the second half, it was so quiet that a fan’s complaints about the officiating rang through the entire place – left the Terps playing transition defense like statues, leaving three-pointers short and failing to capitalize on the chance for an easy blowout that dangled before them the moment Wake Forest began the game with a shot-clock violation.
“We were playing slow, lazy and stuff like that,” Layman said.
“We came out flat,” Mitchell said. “We waited until a few minutes in the second half to bring our A game. I think we should have picked it up a little bit. We had dumb turnovers.”
“We definitely had to generate energy ourselves,” Faust said.
All the excuses will be gone by Monday night, when the Orange arrive in College Park for the first and only regular-season ACC meeting between the sides. Maryland has already announced a general-public sellout for the game, and without Duke or North Carolina headed here anymore, it marks the biggest attraction of the season.
By then, the Terps will be rested, or at least they should be. The memories of Duke will be faded. Mitchell will have finally sifted through the hundreds of text messages he received after the game and stopped watching highlights of that final shot, something he had done “10, 12 times” since the long, silent plane ride back north.
Beating Wake Forest was unsurprising and ultimately not concerning to Turgeon. The methods made him furious during the game, but after he was all smiles, content to forget about this one and move onto Syracuse.
“We just didn’t come out with a will to win or a passion at first, but we had a spark,” Mitchell said.