Mark Turgeon sighed before launching into his opening statement at the postgame news conference following the Maryland men’s 61-46 victory over South Carolina State.
“It’s a win,” the coach said, praising the Terps’ improved free throw percentage, the second best single-game mark of the season. He lauded the field goal defense, which held an opponent under 40 percent for the sixth straight game, and the Comcast Center crowd, which packed more than 12,000 on an otherwise sluggish Saturday afternoon.
“It wasn’t really a fun game to be a part of, to be honest,” Turgeon said. “Maybe it was fun for you.”
Indeed, the Terrapins shot just 37.3 percent from the field, 22.7 percent from three-point range and posted a season-low in points, yet were never truly threatened, running their winning streak to eight games, the program’s longest since the 2006-07 season.
Maryland never quite established a rhythm with South Carolina State running a curious, packed-in zone defense and an offensive system filled with lazy dribble handoffs near midcourt that seemed designed to both lull the Terrapins to sleep and shoot as late on the shot clock as possible.
But with a potent transition game filled with high fliers and a deep bench, Maryland can expect teams to slow games down, especially with four more home games remaining before ACC play begins Jan. 5 against Virginia Tech.
“Not everybody’s going to get up and down the court,” Dez Wells said. “We played Northwestern with the Princeton offense, so we’re used to playing against a team that slows the ball down.”
Days will come when these Terrapins need to shoot better and break zones, but for now they can coast on talent and depth alone. Ten players scored for Maryland, led by a team-high 13 points from Alex Len and eight points apiece from Wells and Shaquille Cleare. Of the Terps’ 19 field goals, 16 were assisted, further displaying the team-first principles that have been installed during Turgeon’s sophomore campaign.
“I think they’re trying to do the right thing,” Turgeon said. “We took a couple of quick shots in the first half. They’re trying to do the right thing, so they’re sharing the ball. Sixteen assists would have been a high for last year.”
Maryland never went on a game-defining run, instead inching away with enough strength to prevent any semblance of a comeback. A Logan Aronhalt three-pointer put Maryland up 61-39 with just more than two minutes remaining, but the Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run in garbage time.
Nine players scored by halftime as the Terps opened up a 31-18 lead, limiting South Carolina State to 23.1 percent shooting while just hitting 11 of 27 shots from the field themselves. But consecutive three-pointers from Aronhalt and Seth Allen, coupled with a nearly five minute-long scoreless stretch for the Bulldogs pushed the lead to 17 points, its largest of the first half.
Utilizing a slow trickle off the bench rather than the five-man line changes seen against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Turgeon kept the rotation fresh after starting his third different lineup in the past three games, this time giving Aronhalt and Charles Mitchell their first nods alongside regulars Nick Faust, Pe’Shon Howard and Len.
Maryland shot just 3 of 12 from three-point range entering the break, though Howard did drill his first field goal since the Lafayette game on Nov. 20 for Saturday’s first points and tacked on a three-pointer to start the second half.
But the Terps’ offensive possessions were few and far between, though they limited South Carolina State to zero second-chance points, 32.1 percent shooting from the field and just seven free throw attempts.
“It wasn’t fun for us either,” Allen said. “Just out there, waiting for them to attack, back in the zone.”
The Terps can expect to face more low-tempo offenses this season. That they can still muster an unremarkable 15-point win in this grind-it-out fashion, though, says plenty about how far they’ve come.
“We did well, we didn’t score as many points as we wanted to, but we still defended well and shot free throws well and rebounded well,” Wells said. “Our turnovers weren’t as much as they usually are, so we’re doing better and making strides towards becoming the team we want to be.”