He had already ditched the tie and overworked his vocal cords, so after the Maryland men’s basketball team sleepwalked through another first-half sequence Tuesday night, Coach Mark Turgeon looked around the huddle and started pointing at players. “Little tired?” he asked someone. “Little fatigued?” he asked another. “Toughen up.”
Three days before, the Terrapins had been crushed by heartbreak at Duke. Any residual emotion disappeared by pregame introductions. Shots thudded on the rim. The transition defense kept springing leaks. At times, the action passably resembled Division I college basketball. That Maryland emerged with a 71-60 win over Wake Forest at Comcast Center, its first victory in three games, spoke to the resolve of Turgeon’s team.
“It shows you we’re getting somewhere,” Turgeon said. “We didn’t play particularly well throughout the game but we were in control. We’re coming. You become a good team when you don’t play particularly well but you’re in control.”
Perhaps, but the Terps (15-12, 7-7 ACC) were fortunate that Wake Forest (14-12, 4-9 ACC) — and not some stronger foe — sat on the opposite bench. In nearly four seasons under Coach Jeff Bzdelik, the Demon Deacons have won just two ACC road games and Maryland had beaten them seven straight times. So the hosts, before a listless crowd of 10,655, could slog through the night and still surface with a double-digit victory.
“We were playing slow, lazy and stuff like that,” forward Jake Layman said. “We really picked up the intensity. We were lucky enough to go into halftime with a five-point lead.”
By intermission, the Terps had been carried by junior guard Nick Faust, who finished with a career-high 20 points. Later, the Baltimore native seemed surprised it took so long to reach the milestone — nearly three years into his tenure at Maryland — which came on a breakaway dunk late in the game.
As point guard Seth Allen bounded over to Faust and giddily broke the news, Maryland was coasting and could finally relax. Earlier in the second half, Faust pulled up for a transition three-pointer that expanded the lead to nine points. Wake Forest threatened with brief spurts, aided in large part by a double-double from Devin Thomas, the brother of Maryland women’s star Alyssa Thomas, but never came closer than six.
“We played together as a team, didn’t have energy in the beginning, but we brought it in the second half,” Faust said.
Four other players finished in double-digit scoring for the Terps, though the balance concealed ugly truths. Forward Evan Smotrycz had 10 points, but he hasn’t made a three-pointer in two games. Allen also had 10, though he made only two field goals and logged a season-low 19 minutes, spending most of the second half on the bench because of those offensive woes. Forwards Charles Mitchell (12 points, seven rebounds) and Layman (11 points) were both efficient, but still at times got bogged down in the quagmire that enveloped their teammates.
Seconds after tip-off, all of Turgeon’s fears about a post-Duke hangover were realized. The final ACC regular-season game between the longtime rivals had reached its thrilling end last weekend when Mitchell’s hook shot bounced three times on the rim before falling away. Afterward, Mitchell was bombarded by text messages and tweets about the potential game-winner, but like his teammates insisted he had shoved all that behind in the lead-up to Wake Forest.
In hindsight, the Terps admitted it might have affected them, at least until Turgeon began jabbing his finger and jolted everyone from their power nap at the second media timeout. Nearly one week remains between now and their next game, a home date with top-ranked Syracuse, which means plenty of chances to recharge.
“We all move forward,” Turgeon said. “Mentally, we might have been a little fatigue but we’ve all moved forward. We knows what lies ahead. Hopefully we can get through this one, get our legs back underneath us, get mentally fresh and really make a run down the stretch.”