BLACKSBURG, Va. — Mark Turgeon threw down the gauntlet at halftime, issuing a challenge Thursday night to the Maryland basketball team that sat before him in the Cassell Coliseum’s visiting locker room. Pouters watch the NCAA tournament from home, the second-year coach barked. The Terrapins, he said, needed to become men.
The Terrapins responded. Twice they saw sizable leads disappear, much like last week at Florida State, when Michael Snaer sent them home on a rocky flight having to absorb a loss at the buzzer after his game-winning three-pointer. But free throws, long the bane of Maryland’s existence in tight games, provided the difference in a 60-55 win, its second straight and first on the road in the ACC this season.
Maryland’s last conference road win came exactly one year ago at Clemson. Since then, the Terps had dropped eight straight ACC games away from College Park, hardly developing into the travel-savvy squad Turgeon expected. With far more to lose from its NCAA tournament résumé than gain through a relatively soft February stretch, Maryland (17-6, 5-5) needed to avoid a letdown against the bottom-feeding Hokies.
“It’s big,” Turgeon said. “Especially the way we had to do it. Crowd was in it. They make a run at us. They have a great player in [guard Erick] Green who can make any shot he attempts. It will go a long way for us going forward. We’re back to .500, 17-6. It’s good. It’s good for this young team. We’ve got a lot of basketball left.”
Those remaining games would have taken on far less significance had the Terps lost at Virginia Tech, which dropped its fifth straight. They blew out the Hokies at home on Jan. 5 and nearly did so again, surging to a 10-point lead out of the chute, aided by eight points from Jake Layman, who torched the Hokies for a career-high 20 on Jan. 5. But the Terps hit an extended cold snap, netting just one field goal and three points over the final 10 minutes.
The Hokies (11-11, 2-7) had been here before. They led both Miami and North Carolina at halftime, ultimately succumbing to late collapses that plunged them into a four-game losing streak. Maryland, meanwhile, entered 0-4 when trailing at halftime.
Once again, the Terps surged early, taking the lead after Pe’Shon Howard split a high double team and found Alex Len for a baseline slam. Virginia Tech responded, engineering a 7-0 run that chopped the deficit to 46-44.
In virtually the opposite script of Maryland’s offense-heavy blowout over the Hokies in its early-January ACC opener, this game turned into a back-and-forth affair. Layman finished with 14 points and James Padgett, in his second straight start, added eight points and 11 rebounds. Green, the former All-Met from Paul VI Catholic, paced Virginia Tech with a game-high 29 points, but the Hokies shot just 2 of 18 from three-point range.
As the game puttered to its finish, littered with timeouts and fouls on both ends, the Terps kept guarding and shooting, never allowing Virginia Tech to come within more than two points. Still, this young team had suffered disappointments on the road before, and couldn’t bear another crushing collapse.
“It feels like we haven’t won one of these in forever,” said Dez Wells, who turned in eight points, nine rebounds and five assists, “which we haven’t. It’s a really good feeling going home with a win.”
The Terps again hurt their own cause, making just 10 of 23 from the line. But Len, Nick Faust andSeth Allen all made free throws down the stretch. After Jarrell Eddie bricked a turnaround three-pointer on the other end with 0.9 seconds left, Maryland could finally breathe, another burden lifted off its back.
“It was time to grow up,” Padgett said. “[Turgeon] didn’t want any excuses. He wanted everyone to go out and play hard and move onto the next play. I saw a lot of people grow up at the end of this game. We made some mistakes, but kept our heads high and got a win.”