For the Maryland Terrapins to be the team they want to ultimately be this season, eventually they would have to win a game like they won this afternoon against the George Mason University Patriots.
After Maryland had earned a 34-30 halftime lead, the Patriots came flying out of the visitor’s locker room at Verizon Center. They scored the first seven points before the Terps regained their composure and responded with a 9-2 run of their own to take the lead back at 43-39 with 14:43 to play in the game.
As it turned out that was the biggest lead Maryland would have until center Alex Len made a soft hook in the lane with just over six minutes remaining to give them a 55-49 lead. Eventually the final margin of 69-62 felt very deceptive.
Back to the original premise….what makes this win mean something are two things. First off, George Mason is a good team from a program that is accustomed to achieving and winning. They entered this event with nothing to lose and expecting to win. If you’re Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, that is a dangerous combination in an opponent.
Second, this was the first time this season that the Terps had fallen behind in the second half and came back to win and they had to do it by grinding out possessions on both ends of the floor. Had they shot a little better from the free throw line (23-39 for the game) they may very well have taken some of the drama out of this contest but this Maryland team does not appear to be wired that way.
In their five wins coming into the BB&T today, the Terps had five different leading scorers in those wins. Sophomore wing Dez Wells appeared to have a breakout performance in the Maryland win at Northwestern earlier in the week and he picked up where he left off this afternoon. He nailed his first four shots of the game and eventually shot 7-10 with 15 points heading into the break.
The only problem is that he was also guilty of four turnovers at critical times that helped to allow the Patriots a chance to claw their way back into the game.
For the game he finished with a career high 25 points but his contributions appeared to be even greater than that, if that is possible.
After George Mason had taken that 37-34 lead early in the second half, the Patriots took a long rebound off of a Maryland miss and headed up court in transition. As point guard, Byron Allen pitched the ball up the sideline on the break, Wells intercepted the ball just as he was falling out of bounds and, somehow, fired the ball to teammate Pe’Shon Howard at halfcourt. Howard took two dribbles and lofted an alley-oop pass to fellow guard Nick Faust for a thunderous, “highlights at 11” slam that not only woke the Maryland fans up but also completely re-invigorated the team at a critical juncture. From that point on his teammates seemed as completely engaged as Wells was.
On the stat sheet it probably went down as one steal. In reality it was much, much greater.
While Len has probably been the most consistent player on the team from game one through the game this afternoon, it is becoming increasingly evident that it is Wells’ team at this point. Watch him provide direction to his teammates- often time with volume- in practice or in a huddle and it’s pretty clear to see.
Faust had a quietly solid game with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists and seems to be thriving in his role as Robin to Wells’ Batman.
The Terps continue to hammer opponents on the backboards. George Mason rebounded as well as any team Maryland has faced all season but still ended up getting hammered 49-34. That advantage was one reason why Maryland shot so many free throws and why they were able to overcome the 19 turnovers they committed.
The way their schedule breaks, this Maryland team should cruise into ACC play with a fairly gaudy 12-1 record when they open up with Virginia Tech in the first week of the year. As they navigate these next couple of weeks they would be well served to remember the lessons from a hard-earned win today.