“This is definitely a bounce-back game for us,” sophomore guard Nick Faust said. “It’ll help our confidence moving forward, just having that positive attitude.”
Everything was systematic and business-like against the Tigers. Extra passes broke down Clemson’s defense. The Terps fed their front-court players, returning to the inside-out principles that were absent in Tuesday’s loss the Eagles. Faust matched his career high with four three-pointers and set a season high with 18 points. With a shortened rotation, a rejuvenated press on defense and three players in double figures, Maryland (19-8, 7-7) had little trouble with the Tigers (13-13, 5-9).
With the most deafening cheers from the 15,373 in attendance coming during a halftime ceremony for legendary Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, the Terps were content to fly under the radar, at least for one game. Freshman guard Seth Allen didn’t need to hit two game-winning free throws, like he did against the Blue Devils. The Terrapins didn’t hang their heads, as they had done after those two disappointing defeats.
For an inconsistent bunch that flip-flops between on-court brilliance and dysfunction, most of Saturday’s win was about the former. With a season-low eight turnovers — the first time the Terrapins have committed fewer than 10 — Maryland turned in yet another performance that was completely unlike the one that preceded it. Unlike its ACC disappointments, however, Saturday trended toward the positive.
Four freshmen combined for 33 points, led by Jake Layman (12 points), Shaquille Cleare (his ACC-high 10 points) and Charles Mitchell (eight points and seven rebounds). Dez Wells and Alex Len, the team’s two leading scorers, shot just 5 of 16 from the field. The Terrapins were abysmal at the foul line, making just 6 of 16 attempts, but it didn’t damage them like it has before. Instead, they rode 19 assists, their second most in ACC play, and after getting outrebounded against undersize Boston College, Maryland topped Clemson in that regard, 39-29.
“I kept wanting to win by more,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “I kept saying, ‘Let’s win by 20, don’t look at the score let’s win by 20.’ We aren’t capable of that right now. It was nice, it was nice to have a double-digit lead and be in control. I felt like our defense was good enough that they couldn’t come back. Our offense was really bad there for a stretch in the second half, but our defense was good enough to overcome it. It was a good feeling and it’s nice to win. We’re heading in the right direction. We got back to rebounding and being physical today, which is what we need to be.”
After Driesell was honored, the Terps turned up the pressure, unveiling a full-court press defense for most of the half. Any sluggishness left over from the loss at Boston College was transformed into energetic steals and breakaway dunks, despite a largely neutralized Len and Clemson center Devin Booker’s team-high 16 points.
A 7-0 run early in the second half sent Clemson tumbling and allowed the Terps to coast. Points on seven of eight possessions made it 53-40, capped off by a nifty up-and-under layup from senior James Padgett and a hasty Tigers timeout.
“After the Duke win, we were at an all-time high,” 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.”