It’s a slippery slope in the ACC, gaining traction nearly impossible once a team begins to slide, especially on the road. So with trips to Duke and Florida State looming over the next week, the Maryland basketball team secured a confidence-boosting 64-59 win over Boston College late Tuesday night. It may have not have been a must-win scenario, given that 12 conference games still remain, but it sure came close.
The pesky Eagles certainly won’t be counted among the ACC’s elite squads, but overcoming its recent struggles with a victorious slugfest will have to suffice for Maryland. Baby steps, as the saying goes.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We’ve had an unbelievably tough stretch. We went Sunday at Miami, Wednesday in an emotional game, noon at Saturday then Tuesday, and we played two teams that had byes leading into North Carolina and Boston College. We gutted it out.
“Had to play a small lineup to defend them, they’re really hard to guard, we don’t practice the small lineup enough. We will going forward. But we figured out a way to win. We were kind of hanging our heads at halftime, our players. I said guys, Boston College is good. They had Miami beat, had North Carolina State beat, could very easily be 3-1 in our league. We have to figure out a way to win the game by one. Figure out a way to win this sucker by one tonight. And we won by five. So it was a good win.”
Alex Len notched his fifth double-double this season with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Jake Layman added 15 points in his third career start. The mistakes still lingered, like three straight offensive fouls or seven early turnovers that allowed Boston College to hang around, but all told the Terps played with heightened confidence, a far departure from the egg laid in the first half against North Carolina.
“It’s just where we are,” Turgeon said. “You just keep coaching, we kept saying next play, coach the next play, that’s what we’re trying to do. A lot of basketball left. It’s January 22. Go middle of March in the season. We’re nowhere near where we want to be. Ask the team, anybody on the team. Not one guy. But we figured out a way to win, and that’s really what matters in the end.”
Logan Aronhalt hit his first field goal in three games, finishing with eight points. Dez Wells ran the point effectively in the second half, finishing with eight assists, five points, five rebounds and three turnovers. Faust made three big plays in crunch time, including a corner three-pointer that put Maryland up 61-52, a strip-and-steal against Patrick Heckmann in traffic and two made free throws that clinched the final margin.
Against an undersized Eagles squad rotating just one player above 6 feet 8 and only two taller than 6 feet 5, the Terps went small to compensate, going on an 8-0, second-half run with Layman, Wells, Faust, Aronhalt and Shaquille Cleare.
“We’ve been practicing it a little more this past week, and it gives me a chance to move around a little more,” Layman said. “It works for me. We felt comfortable. We were in that for about 15 minutes in the second half, and that’s what got us the lead back.”
Players and coaches have preached the mantra of “next play” all week, and the road obviously gets tougher from here. Up next lies a journey to Cameron Indoor, where top-ranked Duke awaits. Their buzzer-beating win over North Carolina State and now this win over Boston College has made the Terps far more battle tested than they were entering ACC play. But how will they fare in hostile territory, facing their biggest test of the season, with a starting lineup featuring three sophomores and two freshmen still prone to youthful mistakes?
“I’m excited. I’ve never been to Cameron, and I think we’re talented enough to win, but we’re going tot have to play just as well defensively, and our offense definitely will have to pick up,” Aronhalt said. “There’s no doubt about it, we’ll have to play better than we did tonight to win.”