Terps cool off after scorching-hot finishing against Wake Forest
As if to show the world that their Jekyll and Hyde nature is not reserved solely for the regular season, the Maryland Terrapins beat Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament tonight in Greensboro 75-62 in an effort that was maddeningly uneven during a listless first half before the Terps put together a glittering second half to win the game going away.
The win sets up a quarterfinal rematch against the second seeded Duke Blue Devils tomorrow night and keeps Maryland’s flagging hopes for NCAA tournament post-season play alive.
It sure wasn’t ever easy in the Greensboro Coliseum tonight and the score probably was not indicative of the struggles Wake caused the seventh seeded Terrapins.
Wake started the game a woeful 1-6 from the field and looked to have their own preparation issues when they caught fire midway through the first half. They executed their offense flawlessly and that, combined with Maryland’s ten first half turnovers and half-hearted rebounding effort combined to give the Demon Deacons a 35-30 lead at the break.
If you listened closely enough at halftime you could probably hear Maryland coach Mark Turgeon peeling paint in the Terp locker room. He could not have been happy with the first half after a spirited week of practice leading up to the game.
When asked after the game, Maryland guard Nick Faust said that probably about 10 percent of what Turgeon said at half had to do with the actual X’s and O’s and that the other 90 percent had to do with firing his team up for the second half.
It sure worked.
The Terps came out breathing fire in the second half, particularly on the defensive end. The ringleader for the turnaround was sophomore Dez Wells and there seemed to be three of him on the court in the first five minutes of the second half. Barely 100 seconds into the second half Wells had scored seven points in a 9-2 Maryland run to begin play and earn their first lead since the 13:00 mark of the first half.
Turgeon appeared to have a pretty simple defensive adjustment after the layup line Wake had going in the first half: Play harder, play faster and apply pressure at every point possible.
The two teams traded the lead back and forth for the next ten minutes before the most unlikely Terrapin of all made a couple of huge plays to start the Terp run that finished the game.
Point guard Pe’Shon Howard, the subject of many anonymous posts on Maryland message boards made by Maryland “fans” armed with electronic courage, buried a huge three pointer to give the Terps a 59-55 lead with 6:38 remaining and followed up with a tip-in on a fast break less than a minute later.
Including that Howard three, Maryland finished the game on a 19-7 run against a Wake team that seemed to run out of gas in the last ten minutes of the game. The same Deac team that turned the ball over only five times in their clinic of a first half turned it over nine times in the second half, allowing the Terps a number of opportunities in transition.
The win gave the Terps their 21st win of the year and gave Maryland faithful a lot to ponder afterward.
First, this team appears to have found itself away from the friendly confines of Comcast Center. They had two solid performances in their last two true road games of the season and another one on a semi-neutral court here in Greensboro.
Second, Wells continues a transformation from band member to rock star. His talent is electric and his ability to finish in transition may be unparalleled in the college game. If you don’t believe me then just watch SportsCenter tonight. He’ll be all over it.
With Wells assuming the alpha male status it appears to take the pressure off some of the other players – most notably Faust. It also helps to alleviate some of the frustration that Terp nation (not to mention Turgeon and his staff) continues to feel over the play of future lottery pick Alex Len.
So, it’s on to the Duke matchup. A fast start is essential, as is the play of a Maryland bench that was up to the task the last time these teams met on February 16th at Comcast. Even if those two boxes are checked, it might not be enough.
One thing is for certain…the Terps would never have the chance beat Duke if they hadn’t won this game and earned the right to play the Devils.