Following a string of blowouts with ACC games mere weeks away, the Maryland basketball team needed a game like this.
The Terrapins needed to withstand a physical second half from a veteran Stony Brook squad. They needed to watch a 20-point second-half lead disappear against a quality mid-major, to respond with lockdown defensive possessions and solid free throw shooting. Most importantly, they needed to handle a nail-biter and emerge unscathed.
Maryland opened on a blistering offensive pace and closed with equal intensity, holding off the Seawolves for a 76-69 win Friday night at Comcast Center, quelling Coach Mark Turgeon’s trepidations about a potential lull following an eight-day break between games for exams and two-a-day practices.
“Really pleased with the win,” Turgeon said. “We beat a really good team. Now you know I’m not full of it when I said that was a good team we’re going to play. For us to be up 20 on that team shows you we did a lot of things right to get there. Then I thought the game got physical and we didn’t handle that well.”
Stony Brook began fronting Alex Len, who finished with a team-high 19 points, in the post and doubling him from the weak side. A massive lead early in the second half faded beneath a flurry of contested jumpers by the Seawolves and a cold shooting stretch for the Terrapins, who mustered just one field goal in the final five minutes. But that field goal, a thunderous slam by Len off his second straight missed free throw with 52 seconds left, gave Maryland enough space to hang on and clinch its 10th consecutive win at the foul line.
After a sluggish 33-point win over Monmouth on Dec. 12, Turgeon expressed far more concern for Maryland’s offensive execution, which included a season-high 23 turnovers. Against Stony Brook, however, the Terrapins scored on their first four possessions and shot nearly 85 percent before a media timeout with less than 12 minutes left in the half. More importantly, Maryland (10-1) settled nicely into its secondary fast break, displaying solid shot selection in building a 13-point lead by halftime.
“We hadn’t given up that many points in the first half all season,” Stony Brook Coach Steve Pikiell said. Maryland “was on fire. They haven’t shot it like that — they were great.”
Dez Wells finished with 19 points on an array of floaters, layups and jumpers, but had five of the Terps’ 11 turnovers, which tied a season low. Nick Faust was efficient in a team-high 31 minutes with seven points, seven rebounds and five assists against just one turnover, while Pe’Shon Howard added eight points, seven assists and two giveaways.
The Terps succumbed to some early alley-oops and fall-away jumpers, but strung together consecutive solid defensive possessions before the break. They nearly forced a shot-clock violation before James Padgett was whistled for a shooting foul with one second left and then withstood Stony Brook’s last-minute set piece.
But Maryland was outscored by six points after halftime as the Seawolves — announced pregame as the “Seahawks” — capitalized off a disciplined 11-0 run that had them hovering around a single-digit deficit, taking care of defensive rebounds and hitting a couple contested shots from the wing. Jameel Warney had a team-high 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but Stony Brook (8-3) was just 21.1 percent on three-pointers.
“I didn’t know what I was going to get,” Turgeon said. “I don’t try to read players anymore or that stuff. We looked fresh. We really looked fresh. I thought by about the 16-minute mark in the second half we didn’t look fresh. You could tell [Stony Brook] played in a lot more close games and their rotation was in a little bit better shape than ours.”
Howard, Faust and Wells combined to hit 5 of 6 free throws in the game’s waning seconds after an Anthony Jackson three-pointer cut the lead to 71-69. Maryland, which got points from eight players and shot 52.8 percent from the field, heads into a seven-day break over Christmas before hosting Delaware State on Dec. 29.
But all roads lead to the conference opener against Virginia Tech on Jan. 5, when the physical play used effectively by Stony Brook in Friday’s second half will become the norm.
“It helps a lot,” Howard said. “That’s what we’re going to get ready for in the ACC, and now we’re close to it. We have to get prepared to play teams like Virginia Tech and Miami, who have been playing really close games. . . . They’re going to expect to win. That’s the mind-set Stony Brook had and I thought we responded pretty well.”