With more than five years in the college ranks, Logan Aronhalt likes to think he’s seen everything, especially when it comes to pregame preparation. It’s not hyperbole. He probably has seen everything imaginable. So it didn’t exactly surprise the senior transfer when Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon announced his intentions to only practice defense leading up to Saturday’s game at Wake Forest.
Then again, Aronhalt might have been the only one.
“Coach really challenged us,” Pe’Shon Howard said after Maryland’s 67-57 win over the Demon Deacons. “He said we weren’t tough enough, we weren’t playing together. We really wanted to bring the physicality to the game. We kind of expected it, and they matched it really well. We wanted to bring a challenge to them, and we handled it really well.”
Following arguably their poorest defensive effort of the season in Wednesday’s 10-point letdown against Georgia Tech, Maryland flipped the script on Wake Forest, holding its opponent to less than 60 points for just the second time since Jan. 22. After watching the Yellow Jackets suddenly catch fire (51 percent from the field on 26-of-51 shooting), the Terps locked down on the road, limiting Wake Forest to just 32.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent on three-pointers.
In his first start since Jan. 9, Howard opened on senior guard C.J. Harris, who was honored during a pregame ceremony for the team’s graduating players. Last weekend, Harris torched Miami for 23 points, including a perfect 5 for 5 from beyond the arc, as the Demon Deacons sparked a court-storm at home in an 80-65 win.
Saturday, Harris notched 19 points but needed 16 field goal attempts to get there. He made all six free throws but shot just 3 of 10 on three-pointers. As a team, Wake Forest coughed up 18 turnovers, the most Maryland has forced since Morehead State committed 20 in the season’s second game. The Terps also finished with a season-high 11 steals, the only team they’ve reached double digits this year.
“We defended really well tonight,” said Dez Wells, who rotated onto Harris when Howard sat. “That’s something Coach has talked to us about. That’s something we need to do as a team.”
Turgeon builds his programs on defense-focused principles, and for the first time in several games, the Terps truly buckled down on that end. Charles Mitchell, despite shooting 1 for 6 from the field and committing three turnovers, hedged hard on ball screens and came up with a team-high three steals. Aronhalt, Wells and Howard all tied their season highs with two apiece.
Granted, Wake Forest traveled three times in the first half, committing the type of unforced errors consistent with Maryland’s ball-control woes, and the Terps weren’t much better themselves with 19 giveaways.
But after getting outrebounded in their past two road games – both losses to ACC bottom-feeders Georgia Tech and Boston College – the Terps topped the Demon Deacons by 11, their largest margin since doubling up Duke 40-20.
With a four-day break before the Terrapins host North Carolina in the home finale, Turgeon will undoubtedly revert to a more balanced practice plan, especially given how the Terps faded in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Jan. 19. But at least for one much-needed win, the lopsided lead-up worked wonders.
“I think all coaches go through that, and they just want to lock down on defense,” said Aronhalt, forever the voice of reason. “We have to remember, it’s just one factor of the game. Today, it was absolutely the deciding factor for us, but I thought our shot selection as still better, definitely took care of the ball better and we responded as a team together down the stretch.”