Maryland 77, Georgia Tech 61: Terrapins crush Yellow Jackets in ACC home opener

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post - Coach Mark Turgeon and the Terps have plenty to cheer about in their win over Georgia Tech.

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Earlier this season, Mark Turgeon would return home from another vexing day coaching the Maryland men’s basketball team and greet his wife with a similar refrain. The rotation was wonky, the execution sloppy, the disappointing losses mounting. Point guard Seth Allen was still injured, and the Terrapins were still a shadow of their expected selves.

“Nothing feels right,” Turgeon would tell his wife, Ann.

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But over the past week, Maryland has been sanded down, painted over and thoroughly polished, and that ongoing restoration project continued Saturday in a 77-61 victory over Georgia Tech at Comcast Center. Smiles were a familiar sight throughout the game. Measured decisions, smart shots and productive post play by the Terrapins, too.

“Yeah, it does look like a different team,” Turgeon said later. “It feels different. It’s fun.”

In starting ACC play undefeated through two games for the first time since the 2002-03 season, the Terps (10-5, 2-0) hammered their visitors from the opening tip. They never trailed, committed just six turnovers, made 10 of 19 three-pointers and received points from all nine rotational players. Junior guard Nick Faust, who is undergoing a turnaround of his own, poured in 16 points, his second straight game as the leading scorer since accepting a bench role.

“I’m kind of shooting with no conscience right now,” said Faust, who made 4 of 6 three-pointers. “Just having an abundance of confidence and believing everything is going to go in.”

The domino effect set into motion by Allen’s return from a broken foot has suddenly made the Terps deep — only forward Evan Smotrycz (14 points) played 30 minutes — and confident inside. Center Shaquille Cleare opened the game with a nifty right hook and finished with eight points, returning to the starting lineup after two games off the bench.

Forward Charles Mitchell grabbed 11 rebounds. Jonathan Graham contributed 15 minutes off the bench. All three kept a Georgia Tech front court that was missing double-double machine Robert Carter Jr. (torn meniscus in his knee) to minimal production. Center Daniel Miller had seven points and starting forwards Jason Morris and Kammeon Holey combined to score 11 for the Yellow Jackets (9-5, 0-1).

Sprinting to a 14-point lead at halftime, Maryland was never threatened and rolled to a third straight victory since Turgeon began insisting his team treat its post-Christmas schedule as an entirely new season. Afterward, Smotrycz continued the superstition by writing “3-0” on the locker room white board.

“Guys are more mature,” Faust said. “Everything’s just more fluid.”

Turgeon traces this back to Allen, and the differences witnessed Saturday, he said, are truly as simple as that. The sophomore chipped in 10 points off the bench and experienced no postgame pain, another step forward as he continues working toward full health. His presence eased the burden off freshman Roddy Peters, who had five assists against zero turnovers all before intermission, and opened things up for slashing wings like Dez Wells (11 points).

After the Terps fell to Boston University on Dec. 21, their second stumble at home against a nonconference underdog, Turgeon lamented his team’s depth. Next year, a four-man recruiting class will max out Maryland’s scholarships at 13, but Allen’s injury in October sent the team scrambling.

“I went with a group where we couldn’t afford an injury to a guard and we had it,” Turgeon said. “You can put that on me.”

With just one day to prepare for a road trip to 13-1 Pittsburgh, the Terps sprinkled their postgame jubilation with reminders that a tougher opponent likely awaits. But for 40 minutes before an energetic announced crowd of 12,545, Maryland played perhaps its most complete game of the season and celebrated accordingly.

Wells joked around with an official during free throws, and even the fans started chuckling when he tried to grab the ball beneath the hoop instead of waiting for the pass. Afterward, Turgeon pretended to beg for a way out of interviews so he could go watch the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL playoffs. He was soon pardoned, leaving with his family in tow and, for once, feeling like everything was right.

 
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