Maryland had just survived its first stagnant half of the season, and all freshman Jared Nickens could do was listen. He sat in the locker room during halftime of Thursday night’s game against Fordham, his team flat and only ahead by five, as senior Dez Wells delivered a message to the team.
Wells offered a flashback to the day before, Nickens said, when the team looked sluggish at the beginning of practice and was forced to climb out of the hole over two grueling hours.
“[Wells] let us know that we were better than [Fordham],” Nickens said.
Just three games into his young career, Nickens is establishing himself as a quick learner — and Thursday he proved to be quick with the trigger, too. The freshman finished with 13 points and six rebounds and Jake Layman added 12 as Maryland overcame an underwhelming offensive performance in a 66-50 win over the Rams.
A week ago, Wells had told reporters that he was looking forward to the first game in which his team was forced to fight through bad shooting.
It came without warning in just the third contest of the season. Maryland had entered having shot better than 50 percent from the field in its four games this season (including two exhibitions), which made Thursday night’s first half offensive performance all the more stunning.
“It was a good night for us to struggle offensively and go through some adversity,” Layman said. “We’ve been shooting the lights out in every game, and tonight we didn’t.”
After Layman hit his second three-pointer to make it 11-5, the Terps gave every impression that they were poised to roll to another easy non-conference win. But Maryland made just one field goal, a three-pointer by Nickens, over the next 11 minutes.
The Terrapins (3-0) shot 36 percent from the field the first 20 minutes, missed eight free throws and committed 11 turnovers, including Fordham’s Jon Severe picking Maryland point guard Melo Trimble and taking the steal in for a layup to make it 23-18 right before half.
Trimble continued to press while running the point, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said, finishing with eight points and two assists against five turnovers — but he progressed in the second half with his decision making. He had just one turnover and scored all of his points in the final 20 minutes.
“I sat down with him at halftime and talked about just relaxing and having fun,” Turgeon said. “I told him not to put too much pressure on himself.”
The Terrapins were bailed out by 30.6 percent shooting (19-of-62) by Fordham (1-2), which missed 24 of its 31 shots in the first half. The Terps are unlikely to see such shooting next week, when they travels to Kansas City on Monday to meet Arizona State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.
“We played good defense, we just couldn’t make any shots,” Nickens said.
The Terrapins scored on their first four possessions of the second half, including three-pointers from Trimble and Richaud Pack, and Layman added back-to-back dunks later in the half to push the lead to 39-26.
On the second slam, Layman hung on the rim enough to trigger a conference among the officiating crew, and boos rained down inside the Xfinity Center as the officials considered levying a technical foul.
Layman got off without a foul, and at least there was passion back inside the building.
Nickens would later add back-to-back jumpers to extend the lead to 15, but the win would ultimately belong to Maryland’s defensive growth.
Maryland excelled at switching off on screens and limiting the Rams’ penetration to instead force jump shots.
Fordham missed 22 three-pointers and only got to the foul line eight times.
“I thought we were terrific defensively tonight. We guarded, guarded and guarded some more,” Turgeon said. “It was not as pretty as you would like it any other night, but it was a good win.”