Mark Turgeon could never have possibly imagined what he was watching.
His Maryland Terrapin team had been completely outplayed for the first thirty minutes of their second round NIT game against a small Denver University Pioneer team. Denver’s Princeton style offense had completely frustrated the Terps throughout the game and had made the significant Maryland height advantage a moot point.
So Turgeon did something completely out of the box in an effort to press one last button to see if his team could survive the Pioneers. He had every one of his interior players sit on the bench in favor of a five guard lineup that had never practiced together, let alone played in a game together.
Instead of employing a traditionally structured offense the Terps spread the floor and attacked Denver off the dribble incessantly the last ten minutes of the game.
While guards Seth Allen and Nick Faust attacked the basket at will, Turgeon’s true stroke of genius was saved for the role of sophomore guard Dez Wells. Wells had already enjoyed a huge couple of weeks with his stellar play attacking the basket from all angles but with the radical lineup change in place he found himself positioned solely on the block close to the basket.
And he completely took over the game.
Using the four guards and Dez attack, the Terps turned a 48-39 deficit with nine minutes remaining into a thrilling 62-52 win over a solid Denver team. For those of you scoring at home, that means they closed the game out on a 23-4 run to win the game. Wells scored nine points in that stretch and anchored Maryland on the backboards.
You never really know what kind of play will change the direction of a game like this but, in retrospect, this one was easy to figure after the fact.
With Maryland trailing by 48-39 inside the nine minute mark Allen missed a contested jumper and it was rebounded by Denver guard Royce O’Neale. After the rebound, Maryland’s Jake Layman reached in to try and pry the ball loose. As he did so, he was whistled for a foul. Simultaneously, O’Neale threw an elbow that landed squarely on Layman’s jaw, buckling his knees.
As per NCAA rule, the officials took a look at the replay and ruled the elbow to be a Flagrant One foul. After O’Neale’s bonus opportunity on the Denver end, the Terps would have two free throws of their own and get the basketball out of bounds.
With the Pioneers holding that nine point lead, O’Neale missed the front end of his opportunity. Faust responded to that by swishing a pair on the Maryland end and by adding another free throw on the ensuing possession. Instead of Denver being able to increase the lead to 11, the Terps had pared the lead to six after the foul shots.
In addition to the lead dwindling, the small Maryland crowd was now fully invested in the game as a result of the foul.
In the five minutes after the foul was called, the Terps went on a 14-2 run to seize a 53-50 lead. After Denver scored to cut the lead back to one at 53-52 at the three minute mark, the Terps went on a “nails in the coffin” 9-0 run to close out the Pioneers and the game.
The win improved the Terps to 24-12 on the season and set up a date next Tuesday against the winner of the Stanford-Alabama game scheduled for Saturday. The winner of that game earns the chance to play in Madison Square Garden in the tournament semifinals.