The Maryland men’s basketball players knew what to expect at halftime Wednesday, because they had been there before. Raised voices from their coaching staff, yelling about a sluggish first half against an Abilene Christian team new to Division I. The Terrapins lacked energy, Coach Mark Turgeon barked, and the defense was terrible.
“Our team didn’t respect them ,” forward Charles Mitchell said. “We came out flat.”
The Terps finished strong — scoring the game’s final 29 points to secure a 67-44 win — but even the early part of the second half offered no respite from sluggishness.
“All right,” Turgeon said to begin his postgame news conference. “A lot of things I want to say, so I’ll probably save you guys some questions.”
Where to begin? Freshman Roddy Peters received his first career start due to Jake Layman (game-high 19 points) having missed practice with a deep thigh bruise. Dez Wells was benched early into the evening, because of a “miscommunication” between him and Turgeon, and didn’t start the second half either. Turnovers again plagued the Terps, mostly on unforced passing errors, and by halftime they had 12. Abilene Christian, which welcomed a dozen new players into the program this season and returned just one, took advantage and rolled up an 11-point lead.
“I don’t know what I did wrong, but I didn’t have us ready,” Turgeon said. “To play that way is not good. We didn’t put a lot into Abilene Christian. They run a lot of the same things we do offensively, and so we went through it yesterday, didn’t put a lot of time into it today. Mentally, as the season goes on, want our guys to be fresh. Maybe our guys didn’t think Abilene Christian was any good by doing that. Obviously I didn’t get them prepared to play.”
Down 11, Turgeon ripped off his suit jacket and tossed it onto the bench, because the upset threat was suddenly real. He called two quick timeouts, barking at his players to curb the mistakes. When intermission came and the Wildcats led, 30-29, former Division III walk-on Varun Ram had played only one fewer minute (12) than point guards Wells and Peters combined (13).
“He was upset,” Layman said of the coach. ‘He was yelling at us. But this game is going to be a learning experience for us, knowing we can’t come out and have those first halves.”
Abilene Christian continued to pressure into the second half, answering every Terps basket with a jumper on the other end. The Wildcats were scheduled as an easy nonconference win, an opponent that just moved from Division II that wouldn’t count against Maryland’s Rating Percentage Index. Instead, they shocked a half-full Comcast Center of 9,117 fans by, at one point, making 10 of 15 three-point attempts. Only Mitchell, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, helped keep Maryland around by battling in the paint.
Then the Wildcats cooled. A three-pointer with 14 minutes 12 seconds became their final points, the scoreless stretch lasting 23 possessions.
Wells played better in the second half, and afterward Turgeon called their relationship “not a good one, a great one.” Evan Smotrycz and Nick Faust finished with 11 points apiece.
“This game is going to be a learning experience for us, knowing we can’t come out and have those first halves,” said Layman, who got hot as Abilene went cold. The sophomore scored 14 unanswered points and sandwiched it with a soaring blocked shot on defense for good measure.
His spark gave Maryland its first lead since midway through the first half, turned a once-miserable night into a runaway victory and gave Turgeon license to put his jacket back on.
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