It sure didn’t have the almost overwhelming atmosphere and drama of last Saturday’s thrilling upset win over then #2 ranked Duke. Then again, it sure beat the heck out of the collective letdown earlier this week in the debacle at Boston College.
So finding that middle ground ended up working just fine for the Maryland Terrapins and they fashioned a 72-59 over visiting Clemson at Comcast Center. The win improved the Terps to 19-8 overall and evened their conference record at 8-8. With just four games remaining in the regular season and their post season possibilities on the line, Maryland was able to change the course of the game with a simple move from their head coach Mark Turgeon.
After falling behind 10-4 in the first five minutes of the game, the Terps weren’t just trailing this game, they were completely lacking in both emotion and effort. Given the fact that his team had displayed a similar lack of both in their loss at BC, Turgeon wasn’t going to sit back and let the season become a moot point.
He directed his team to begin to pressure Clemson full court at every opportunity. While it didn’t necessarily force the Tigers into a bevy of turnovers it did force a handful of bad shots and, more importantly, it seemed to completely energize the team and allowed Maryland to find an offensive rhythm that had been missing. The Terps went on a 24-10 run that changed the course of the game and gave them a lead they would never relinquish.
As has been the case for much of the season, the Maryland bench played a big factor in the turnaround. Freshman Charles Mitchell had 8 points and 6 rebounds in the first half and regularly beat his Clemson counterparts to loose balls and long rebounds. His singular effort was contagious. Eventually the Terps had a 35-32 lead at the break but they had changed the direction of this game and a 9-3 run at the start of the second half put them on their way to a quality conference win.
For much of the season, one of the ongoing story lines for this team had been the ongoing search for direction and quality play in their backcourt. For one game, at least, they appeared to have that problem solved.
Sophomore Nick Faust played his best game of the season – and one of the best of his career- with an 18 point, three assist, and three steals outing while playing a lot of minutes as point guard. Perhaps even more important than that was the fact that he had no turnovers at all and the team had only 8 for the entire afternoon. That’s a quantum leap for this club.
He was aided in the backcourt by fellow sophomore Dez Wells. Wells shot only 1-6 from the field but had seven assists against just one turnover. He also appears to be the guy that Turgeon will have run the offense in the last five minutes of a meaningful contest. While he is not a natural at the position, he offers size, confidence and a low center of gravity with the ball and has proven to be a more than capable playmaker on the move with the ball in his hands.
The beneficiaries of the deft passing of Wells and Faust were the freshman brick walls – Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare. With center Alex Len struggling again, Cleare joined the party in the paint that Mitchell was throwing. Cleare ended the game with 10 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes – all highs for him in ACC play. He also proved to his coach that he need not wait if Len is struggling.
As is usually the case for this team, the game was never very pretty. One of the things that it did affirm was that this team is at its best when it is scoring in transition. Today that transition attack was greatly aided by its pressure defense. Eventually those 72 points scored were 13 above what Clemson gives up on average and their 47% shooting was significantly higher than the 40% that opponents shoot against the Tigers.
With three of their last four games away from Comcast Center, the Terps could not afford to let another game slip away. The same can be said for upcoming road games at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Both are beneath Maryland in conference standings but both have proven especially capable at home – witness Wake’s thrashing of Miami this afternoon.