Seth Allen stood from his chair on the Maryland basketball bench and behind him the fans rose too. He unzipped his white warmup jacket as the applause began, first a small murmur that soon grew into a building-wide ovation. The sophomore point guard had waited eight weeks for this moment, when his broken foot was finally healed and he was again ushered into a game, and Comcast Center made sure he was welcomed accordingly.
“It made me nervous,” Allen said. “I felt like there were big expectations. When they started cheering, I was like, ‘Whoa.’ But I played it off.”
A 85-74 win over Tulsa on Sunday evening was replete with story lines, chief among them a coaching reunion and two approachable milestones, but Allen’s return topped them all. He scored 15 points off the bench, three shy of the team high, and gave Terrapins faithful every bit of satisfaction they expected before an awkward landing in practice cracked the fifth metatarsal in his left foot just 10 days shy of the season opener.
When doctors pegged his return for eight weeks, Allen immediately set a countdown clock on his iPhone and during practice watched the minutes and seconds tick away. Eight weeks arrived on Friday afternoon, when a follow-up visit determined the bone had healed. “He’s cleared,” was the only message Coach Mark Turgeon needed to hear.
His 21 minutes were certainly higher than the “few” Turgeon promised Saturday morning, under the stern condition that Allen rise the following day with little soreness after a full-speed practice. But Allen’s presence altered Maryland’s fortunes considerably against the Golden Hurricane, spacing the floor and opening up opportunities for Dez Wells (18 points, 10 rebounds), Evan Smotrycz (13 points), Jake Layman (12 points) and Nick Faust (13 points). Even freshman Roddy Peters, the point guard Allen may soon replace in the starting lineup, benefitted with seven points.
Before Allen checked in for a second time, though, the Terps were behind 15 points, desperate for a spark. Christmas break, Turgeon promised, had left Maryland mentally refreshed after the team suffered another disappointing nonconference home loss on Dec. 21 to Boston University. But with the group struggling with turnovers, rebounding and shooting against a Tulsa team that sat four games below .500, it all seemed mere talk.
“Then,” Turgeon said, “Seth Allen did what Seth Allen does and got us going.”
Said Allen: “I don’t know what happened. A spark just lit.”
It was him. A layup and a pull-up three-pointer in transition helped key a 15-2 run that trimmed the double-digit deficit by 13 points. The cheers Allen received then might have even surpassed those earned by Wells, when he scored his 1,000th career point on an early put-back, and for Turgeon, who notched his 300th career victory. As a postgame video tribute with messages from old colleagues played, the Terps circled around him, high-fiving and breathing easy after weeks of uneven play.
The sequence that sent Maryland (8-5) over the top, though, came not from a player, but the whistle of referee Karl Hess, who issued consecutive technical fouls to Tulsa Coach Danny Manning within seconds and ejected him with a dramatic flourish, all because Manning, he claimed later, objected to a call by saying, “Unbelievable.”
“You can verify that with the people at the table,” Manning said later.
As Manning left the court, jeers cascading from the crowd, Turgeon walked with his former college teammate for several steps in comfort. They had played together for three years at Kansas and supported each other up the coaching ladder, but the reunion would be finished with Manning in the locker room. After Allen hit two free throws, Maryland opened its lead to 11 points and withstood a late barrage from the hot-shooting Hurricane (12 of 26 on three-pointers) to hold on.
Soon, Allen found himself gassed, months without conditioning finally catching up with the adrenaline. After attacking the rim on one possession, he labored back to the bench where he sat for good, a towel over his head, a smile on his face and a heat pad on his foot to keep the blood flowing. Allen was back, Maryland was winning and, in the moment, those were the only things that mattered.