Terps continue to roll through NIT
After Maryland gutted out a 62-52 win over the Denver Pioneers, clawing their way back in a game much closer than the final score indicates, Terps coach Mark Turgeon explained that his team simply found a way to get it done.
Turgeon said that his mentor, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, would implore his teams to figure out a way to win, no matter the situation. Against Denver, that’s exactly what Turgeon and the Terps did.
“Our kids battled, we didn’t want the season to end,” Turgeon said.
With about nine minutes left in the game, energized by a Denver flagrant foul that gave Maryland free throws and the ball, the Terps made their move. Trailing late and in danger of losing at home to a WAC opponent, an elbow to Jake Layman’s jaw turned the game around.
“He elbowed me,” Layman said after the game. “I think our attitude changed after that. It was like, 'all right, they’re going to punch us, we’ll punch back now,' and we did.”
Following the flagrant foul, Maryland turned up the defensive intensity, and Dez Wells took over the scoring load. With just over nine minutes left, the Terps trailed Denver 48-39. From there, it was all Terps.
“Defensively the last eight minutes of the game we were tremendous,” Turgeon said. “We went thru Dez. We got to the foul line.”
Maryland rattled off a 23-4 run to close the game, with Wells scoring a team high 19 points.
Recalling Brown’s advice, Turgeon went small to match the Pioneers perimiter-oriented lineup, and the tactical move paid off.
“Our big lineup couldn’t guard them, so we went small,” the coach said.
The last eight minutes of the game, Maryland played some combination of Wells, Nick Faust, Layman, Seth Allen and Logan Aronhalt. Denver coach Joe Scott could feel the momentum shift.
"The game swung," Scott said. "We just couldn't do what we needed to do at that juncture."
While in most games the Terps prefer to feed the post, in this game Turgeon knew to abandon the post-game, turn up the pressure on defense and let his young guards bring home the win.
“We played with poise. Normally when I give them that much freedom, they go crazy on me. But they didn’t,” Turgeon said. “We couldn’t have done that six weeks ago. We couldn’t have adjusted.”
Though the Terps are playing in the less glamorous NIT, Thursday’s game exemplified the lessons a young team can take from the tournament.
All season, Maryland struggled to close out opponents. Narrow losses on the road against Florida State and Virginia came as a direct result of not being able to finish an opponent. With such a young team, a comeback win with their backs against the wall could be a launching point for the Terps to continued success in the NIT and bigger successes next season.
“Im proud of our group,” Turgeon said. “That was fun. It was nerve-racking, but it was fun in the end.”
With one huge strategic decision, and the will to lead his team to rally, Turgeon’s old coach would have been proud of the win over Denver.
“We figured it out.”