ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — The end was near, the victory secure. But Coach Mark Turgeon was still chirping instructions from the sideline, and his Maryland men’s basketball players, lined up for virtually meaningless free throws, were still yelling acknowledgment back. In an 80-66 romp over Northern Iowa that boosted them into the Paradise Jam championship, the Terrapins had delivered their most complete effort of the season, and Turgeon wanted to see it through to the final buzzer.
“We talked about it before the game,” the third-year coach said. “We had no chance unless we played that way. We knew it. Our guys stepped up tonight.”
Maryland arrived on this island seeking to bounce back from a sub-.500 start. The Terps (3-2) have appeared to find their footing with blowouts here over Marist on Friday and the Panthers (2-3) on Sunday.
Four Terps finished in double figures in scoring, including bounce-back games from both Evan Smotrycz (a game-high 20 points) and Nick Faust (17), who played what Turgeon called arguably the best game of his college career.
Two days earlier, Turgeon explained his decision not to start Smotrycz during the tournament opener with a concise edict: The Michigan transfer simply didn’t play well against Oregon State a week ago at Comcast Center. Back in the lineup to provide experience against a tough Northern Iowa side, Smotrycz scored eight straight points midway through the second half, and Maryland coasted from there.
“If we get clicking like that and we’re playing hard, we’re tough to beat,” Smotrycz said.
Faust’s spark came on the defensive end, where he twice turned telegraphed passes into breakaway dunks, injecting life during another slow start. Maryland left the first half leading just 33-30, having missed all eight three-point attempts before intermission.
Northern Iowa endured its own shooting struggles, making just 24.1 percent of its three-point attempts two days after torching Loyola Marymount from deep. Forward Seth Tuttle scored a team-high 19 points but needed 17 shots to do it and missed all five three-pointers. The Terps also forced 14 turnovers while committing just eight, a season low.
“We wore them down with our defensive pressure,” Turgeon said.
Jake Layman continued his torrid scoring stretch, notching 19 points despite having at least one defender close to him at all times, and Dez Wells was unstoppable in the lane, scoring 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting. The junior guard also dished out six assists against one turnover, a sign of progress given his early struggles leading the offense.
“We’re tired of losing,” Wells said. “We’re tired of being yelled at by coach for not defending well and not doing the things we’re supposed to do. We felt like we let one go against Oregon State, and we don’t want to let that happen anymore.”
On Monday night, the Terps will play for the championship against Providence at 11 p.m. local time (10 p.m. Eastern).
As Wells wondered whether he had ever played a game that late — no, he hadn’t, and his teammates agreed — he sported a strawberry-colored shiner under his right eye, earned on the game’s second play. He played 38 minutes against Northern Iowa and took a spill on a hard foul late in the game.
Turgeon asked whether he wanted a timeout before shooting free throws. Wells said no. He and his teammates wanted to end on their terms.