The reminders were everywhere. The newspapers, shaken and crinkled in jest by Terrapins fans during pregame introductions, proclaimed the University of Maryland’s move to the Big Ten official. When university President Wallace D. Loh entered Comcast Center midway through the second half Tuesday night, chants began of “Big Ten, Big Ten.” And during a promotional advertisement for the Atlantic Coast Conference on the overhead video board, one student waved goodbye.
Coach Mark Turgeon’s team learned of Maryland’s move in a meeting Monday evening, hours after a news conference declared the school’s 59 years as an ACC charter member over, but paid little mind. They had a basketball game to play.
The Terrapins took care of business against pesky, streaky-shooting Lafayette in a 83-74 win, their third straight heading into Thanksgiving break. Next Tuesday brings the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at Northwestern, an appetizer for conference play in two seasons.
With Lafayette’s defense collapsing on 7-foot-1 center Alex Len, James Padgett had a field day on the weak side, finishing with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, mostly layups and dunks. On a night when a Division III player broke an NCAA single-game record with 138 points, Maryland (3-1) survived with a little more distribution, placing five players in double digits, including Len (a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds), Dez Wells (11 points and seven rebounds), Nick Faust (13 points and eight rebounds) and Charles Mitchell (12 points).
“We’re sharing the ball. We have great balance,” Turgeon said. “Five guys in double figures tonight. Guys can score in a variety of ways. We’ve just got good players, and they want to win. They’re willing to share the ball and do the right thing.”
Maryland scored 50 points in the paint, taking advantage of yet another undersized opponent to compensate for a miserable shooting night from deep and sluggish perimeter defense.
The Leopards (1-4) were 15 for 32 on three-pointers and cut the lead to eight points with less than two minutes left. They did not muster enough for a gap-closing run.
“We’re a lot better than we were two weeks ago,” Turgeon said. “We just have some holes. Tonight was jump-shooting and free throws and rebounding. We don’t box out the way we want our team to box out. Defensively, we made huge strides, even though they made 15 threes. We had some unbelievable defensive possessions out there. We’ve gotten better out there.”
Off an inbounds behind his own basket with less than a minute remaining, point guard Pe’Shon Howard dribbled up the left sideline and fired a jump-pass to Len, who threw down a thunderous two-handed slam that stamped the victory. Late free throws provided the final margin in a game that, at least for the Terps, seemed closer than necessary.
“We had to adjust a lot, switch a lot,” said Mitchell. “They all can shoot. You leave the open, it was a knockdown. It was a weird game.”
Weird though it was, the contest showcased Maryland’s commitment to an inside-out offensive approach, working through its post players with effectiveness. Coming out of halftime with a 10-point lead, Maryland ran a backdoor alley-oop to Len, who snatched the pass from Howard, got fouled in the process and hit the ensuing free throw, opening things up to line change at will through a 10-man rotation that kept everyone fresh.
But with Logan Aronhalt and Maryland’s four freshmen in, consecutive Leopards three-pointers and a layup brought Maryland’s lead to 54-43 and forced Turgeon to call timeout and return to his starters. Two three-pointers by Seth Hinrichs chopped the margin to single digits, but a floater from Faust and a Len tip-in gave the Terps just enough.
“We’re getting there,” Turgeon said. “Just going to be like that for us. But I liked their energy tonight. I thought we, at times, played well. That one substitution really hurt us. I learned a little bit about myself and how I have to coach this team moving forward. Gave them a lot of momentum.”
After the game, Turgeon again praised the progression of Maryland’s offense, which missed 12 three-pointers and 10 free-throws yet still managed 83 points. As opponents game-plan around Len, dribble-drives and skip passes are open. The Terps shot 51.8 percent from the field and are “way ahead of any time it was last year,” Turgeon said.
“We like to play inside-out,” Wells said. “We have really good big men, so we like to get it to them first. The guards, we can create our own shots, but we have to work through them, because they carry us throughout the game. We do whatever we can to get those guys involved. The guards, we just let the guys come to us. Open shot, we take it. Extra pass, we make it.”