Smiles returned to Comcast Center on Saturday, the swagger back in Maryland’s step after Wednesday’s crushing two-point lossat Florida State. From the pregame introductions, when the starters danced and their teammates followed suit, the Terrapins looked like a rejuvenated bunch, ready to wipe the slate clean after a roller-coaster January.
It was the type of effort they needed. Badly.
Saturday against Wake Forest marked the outset of a decidedly easier stretch of winnable games. Postseason implications will have to wait until another day. For now, the Terps enjoyed their most productive offensive effort since hanging 94 points on Virginia Tech in their ACC opener nearly one month ago and rolled to an 86-60 win.
Rarely has Maryland seemed so dominant since conference play began.
Instead, it has suffered all manner of heartbreak and disappointments, culminating in Michael Snaer’s dagger with 1.1 seconds left in Tallahassee, Fla., which sent the Terps on a tearful, bumpy plane ride home. There have been blowouts (by Duke), second-half collapses (against Florida State, twice) and first-half disappointments (at North Carolina).
But the emotions were reversed and the bench emptied against hapless Wake Forest, a feel-good ACC win finally in the bag.
“It’s pretty big,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We had guys crying after the last game. Shows you they care. It’s good for everybody. Coaches included. . . . Last two games, they’re starting to figure it out. Now whether we’ll get a road win next Thursday [at Virginia Tech], I don’t know. But you can see it coming. You can see us coming. It’s good to see.”
The Terrapins’ once-dormant offense hummed. Maryland fed passes inside against a Wake Forest defense mostly uninterested in fronting. Maryland’s three post players shot 16 of 19 from the field in racking up 44 points in the paint, its most since Dec. 29 against Delaware State.
All but one regular shot at least 50 percent from the field. The holdout? Pe’Shon Howard, who was 0 for 1.
It became that type of afternoon for the Terps. They didn’t cool off and shot 67.3 percent from the field, the fifth-best mark in program history and best since 1986. They also shot a season-high 68.8 on three-pointers.
Six players finished in double figures for the first time since 2011, though none scored more than Logan Aronhalt’s team-high 13.
“We definitely needed to play like this,” Aronhalt said. “Coach told us after the game, he feels this style of play, he feels it coming on. Tonight we really showed it. Locking down on defense, playing aggressive and smooth on offense. That’s been our biggest setback this far in the season, our offensive struggles. Tonight we made shots. Guys have really been in the gym working. After every practice we get some extra shooting in. All we did the other day was go out and shoot the ball. When you make shots, it really helps.”
For all of Maryland’s head-hanging slumps and hand-wringing inconsistencies, every player seemed to shake off his previous struggles. Alex Len, who was called out by Turgeon for his sub-par performance at Florida State, exploited some matchup problems to finish with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting and nine rebounds. Len took an elbow early from Wake Forest freshman Devin Thomas, younger brother of Maryland women’s basketball star Alyssa Thomas. Jawing with the forward, Turgeon said, got Len going.
Freshman guard Seth Allen made 3 of 4 three-pointers, more than he had in the past six games combined. Senior forward James Padgett, who played an effective 31 minutes against the Seminoles, made all six field goal attempts in his return to the starting lineup, the 11th fielded by Turgeon this season and eighth through nine ACC games. Dez Wells (11 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Jake Layman (4 for 6 on three-pointers) also finished in double figures for the Terps, who never let the lead slip to single digits after an acrobatic Wells layup gave them a 30-19 lead.
“It was great to see our offense really flow like that tonight,” Layman said. “We knew we had to come out and win today, and we did.”