Terps Resolute in New Year's Eve Win
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Dez Wells said he had about 20 minutes before the game and dinner last night to spend with childhood friend, mentor and "uncle" LeVelle Moton.
Moton just happens to be the head coach at North Carolina Central, a MEAC school making a name for itself this year, prior to Maryland's 70-56 dismantling Tuesday afternoon at the Comcast Center before 9,554.
What Wells should have told Moton was that the Eagles should have caught Maryland (9-5) before the return of Seth Allen, who despite playing through some soreness and in just his second game back from his fractured foot, has solved a lot of the Terrapins' ills.
Turnovers, 16 of them were an issue early, but depth, shooting – even free throw shooting – and defense were never a problem against the fast and well-coached Eagles (7-4), who have been receiving votes in the CollegeInsider Mid-Major poll, and were ranked No. 82 in the RPI thanks to a win over NC State in November.
"Is it as simple as just one more player?" asked coach Mark Turgeon in response to a postgame question about Maryland's improved play. "I think it is. (Allen's return) gives us all confidence, gives us depth. I can actually take guys out for making mistakes defensively, hold them more accountable."
The Terrapins certainly accounted for NCCU's Jeremy Ingram, who came in averaging 24.6 points per game. Wells and Nick Faust, off the bench in perhaps his finest game of the season, held Ingram to 11 points on 4-of-19 shooting.
"Coach (Turgeon) has been emphasizing locking in on the leading scorer and doing what we can to block shots," said Faust, who also had season highs of 19 points and nine rebounds. "Just defending pretty well and trying to slow (Ingram) down. We tried to push him to take shots and we did a great job tonight."
And not just on Ingram. As a team, North Carolina Central shot only 32.7 percent (18-of-55) and only 13.3 percent (2-of-15) from three-point range. The Terrapins had eight blocked shots, their fourth game in a row with seven or more, and they held their second straight opponent and third in the last four below 40 percent shooting. Not coincidentally, the Terrapins have won two in a row and four of their last five, heading into full-time conference play this Saturday with a home date with Georgia Tech.
"I like it a lot better today than I did 10 days ago," said Turgeon of the current Maryland Mojo on the eve of ACC action. "We're not looking backward, we're just looking forward. That's the whole thing. We've got such a tough schedule and a good schedule ahead of us that's in our control. I think defensively as a coach I feel more comfortable with our team. And I know our execution is just going to keep getting better."
The Terrapins shot 44.9 percent, including 54.5 percent (12-of-22) in the second half. That hot hand carried over to the free throw line where the typically-charity-challenged Terps hit 14-of-17 in that half, and a season best 81.8 percent (18-of-22) for the game.
"This is the most complete game we've played," said Turgeon, delighted in the timing of that event.
He was also happy for Faust, who started the first eight games this season but is morphing into a quality sixth man the last six. "He's making shots right now," said the coach. "Nick was terrific. I'm really happy for him because he didn't shoot the ball very well at the beginning of the season and now he's really starting to shoot it."
The return of Allen, who had six points and four assists in 20 minutes, has helped Faust, said the coach. "There's less pressure on everybody. There's less pressure on Nick. There's less pressure on Dez. There's less pressure on Jake (Layman), all because Seth's back. Seth can score and Seth can do a lot of things. Less pressure on Roddy (Peters), Roddy can just play and do what he does. And less pressure on our post guys. I think it has given us all confidence. It's that simple."
The Terrapins shot out to start the second half, hitting their first three three-point attempts to push the lead to 37-26 at 16:45 when Faust canned a threebie. Allen had already hit two against the Eagles' 2-3 zone. Faust was 3-of-6 behind the arc, Allen 2-of-4. Maryland hit 8-of-19 as a team, 42.1 percent, their best showing from long range in seven games.
Wells, who hit 2-of-3 behind the arc, was the only Terp besides Faust in double figures, netting 10 to go with five rebounds, two assists and two blocks. He scored all 10 in the first half in front of Moton's bench.
North Carolina Central's offense got back in the game a little bit, too, after a horrid first half. When Emmanuel Chapman got a three-point play to open the scoring 27 seconds in, it was NCCU's first field goal since the 3:51 mark of the first half.
Turgeon started Charles Mitchell and Allen in the second half, a pretty good tip-off of the Terrapins' current stock value game-to-game. Jonathan Graham, who finished with six points and three rebounds in 14 minutes, had had his first start at Maryland.
Mitchell played 22 minutes and had five points and seven rebounds, his best scoring game in the last three and his most rebounds since 11 at Ohio State. Mitchell was just 1-of-1 from the field and 3-of-7 at the line (Maryland's only misses there on the day) but he had an impact at the other end.
"Charles made a commitment to defense, it's amazing what the bench does for you," said Turgeon.
Wells picked up his third foul at 15:15 of the second half but it didn't slow the Terrapins, who were now cranking offensively. Maryland hit seven of the first 11 field goal attempts, and began to pull away.
Peters fed Graham for a lay-up and then hit two free throws on the next possession to push the lead to 44-28 at 13:50. His three-point play on a lay-up at 11:28, had the Terrapins in front 51-35, Peters and Allen looking good together.
Maryland pushed the lead to 23 points when Shaquille Cleare blocked a shot to trigger a fastbreak where Faust drained a three to make it 68-45 at 3:21.
"This is definitely a confidence booster," said Faust. "I'm just trying to get into the groove and play the best I can to help the team. Performing well off the bench is something big for this team so I'm glad I got that done."
After Maryland's lead first reached 16 in the first six-and-a-half minutes of the second half, NCCU never got closer than 14 until the last 1:17, after the walk-ons were in. The last time it mattered at 9:07, Karamo Jawara scored inside to make it 53-39. Evan Smotrycz and then Faust hit two free throws apiece to open it back up.
Ingram's 11 points led the Eagles, and Jordan Parks added 10.
Layman finished with eight for Maryland, to go with four rebounds and two blocks. Smotrycz and Peters each had seven, Smotrycz adding seven rebounds and three assists. Peters had two assists, hit all three of his free throws and was 2-of-3 from the field. He looked confident in the half court and kept the ball moving against NCCU's zone defense.
Cleare had a dunk and two blocks in eight minutes, and freshman Damonte Dodd had a rebound in nine minutes but again brought energy as all the big men contributed for perhaps the first time this season.
Turgeon cleared the bench and everyone except freshman walk-on A.J. Metz got in, the coach saying he just ran out of time at the end to get Metz on the floor.
Wells said his "uncle," Moton "kept trying to bait (him) into saying something to give" the Eagles motivation prior to the game. "He kept saying stuff like, ‘Don't beat us too bad,'" Wells laughed about their pre-game chat and dinner Monday night. "I'm like, ‘You're not going to trap me into saying some stuff about your team that you can get them any more motivated than they already are. No, I'm not falling for that."
In the end, Wells got that last word, making Moton and NCCU say "uncle," with a solid effort that began late in the first half.
Maryland scored the last six points of that painfully slow half to take a 28-20 lead at the break. The Terrapins hit 37 percent from the field (10-of-27), sizzling by the Eagles' 26.7 percent (8-of-30) standard. Central was also just 1-of-9 from three-point range and got pounded 26-16 on the board (it was 43-28 at game end). Eleven Terp turnovers kept NCCU in the game.
The Eagles missed their last four field goal attempts and a front end of a one-and-one, notching just two free throws in the final 3:51 of the half, and just three field goals total in the last 9:39.
Wells hit a 15-footer at 2:55 to make it 24-20, Faust had a follow in a flurry after Wells missed in transition and then Graham stuck back Allen's three-point miss at 48 seconds for the eight-point bulge, Maryland's biggest lead to that point.
The Terrapins had trailed 16-14, when Wells stuck back his own miss to start a slow 7-0 run over a span of 3:20. Layman hit a three – four of Maryland's first seven field goals were threes – and then Mitchell added two free throws at 4:08 for a 21-16 Terrapin edge.
Parks' 15-footer ended a four minute and 11 seconds scoring drought for North Carolina Central at 3:51, but that would be the Eagles' last field goal before the half.
Both teams started slowly. There were eight missed shots and four turnovers in the first 3:13 before anyone scored. Copeland got a layup to put Central on top but Peters finally scored for Maryland at 16:25 to tie it up.
At the first timeout, Turgeon put Allen, Faust, Mitchell and Dodd in to join Wells, and that lineup got rolling. Faust hit a three to make it 5-4, and on the next possession, Wells improbably threw up a desperate three at the shot clock buzzer that banked in.
The Eagles tied the game up a few minutes later, Jawara's short jumper making it 14-14 at 10:21. NCCU took the lead back when Ingram scored in transition.
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