Maryland Muscles Ramblin' Wreck
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Shaquille Cleare hunkered down behind the table during the interview session after Maryland's 77-61 win over Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon.
The big sophomore center heard variations of the same question over and over, folks wondering what has got into the Terrapins in their sudden three-game, five-wins-in-the-last-six games streak and the impressive win over Tech in the final ACC home opener.
"It's ACC play now," said Cleare. "It's the big boys showing up."
And the Terrapins (10-5 overall, 2-0 ACC) definitely had their Big Boy game on against a rugged Georgia Tech team that's among the top ACC squads in the paint. Maryland lost the rebounding battle 36-34 but won the war before 12,545 at Comcast Center with one of the Terrapins' most complete games this season.
"Our post players played well, our post defense was really, really good, we had a post presence on offense for the first time…we played inside out, the carryover from the defensive end to the offensive end, 16 assists, six turnovers – that's really, really good for us," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon running down a list that probably coincided with the Terrapins' New Year's Resolutions.
Maryland jumped out to a 10 point lead in the first three minutes and four seconds and never trailed against a Yellow Jackets (9-5, 0-1) squad that had won four of its last five games. Tech now faces an uphill battle with a game at Duke Tuesday and playing without ACC rebounding leader Robert Carter, Jr., who went down with a knee injury Sunday at Charlotte.
Maryland seems headed in an opposite direction – finally – with Seth Allen back from his broken foot and the Terrapins' newfound depth (only hot-handed Evan Smotrycz played as many as 30 minutes Saturday) that's winning games and hopefully going to influence Maryland's postseason positioning.
"I think you're starting to see the Maryland team that I think maybe was projected early in the year," said Jackets coach Brian Gregory. "With multiple players that can really hurt you offensively. And I think they're a team that's only going to keep getting better."
"We've been having so many ups and downs this season that this is a fresh start for us," said Cleare, who returned to the starting lineup and had eight points in 19 minutes, teaming with Charles Mitchell to establish that "presence" inside. "We just have to continue putting in the work. It isn't going to be easy. We've got a lot of tough games coming up."
Starting with Pittsburgh Monday night, Maryland plays three of the next four games on the road, including at Florida State next Sunday before returning home to host Notre Dame Jan. 15, in the two school's first and last ACC regular season meeting.
But Maryland can savor this one a little bit, shooting 46.7 percent from the field with a great inside-outside attack (11-of-17 from three-point range), and holding Tech to just 38.3 percent shooting (23-of-60) in a solid defensive effort. The Terrapins committed a season-low six turnovers and were so solid defensively in the second half that the Yellow Jackets never got to the bonus.
"I think going inside-out we got a lot of buckets at the rim and our bigs played really good," said Smotrycz, who had 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, his third double-figure scoring game in the last four. "Georgia Tech has some big strong guys that can really score inside and we were able to limit them a little bit. Our defense kind of spurred our offense."
Nick Faust, with 16 points, led the attack for the second straight game, and he has now hit 14 of 24 shots (.588) since returning from the holiday break. He was 6-of-8, overall, and 4-of-6 behind the arc against the Yellow Jackets, who looked first to limit Dez Wells (11 points) and Jake Layman (six).
"I was shooting a little flat-footed and I started to jump a little higher on my shot," said Faust of a change he has made since Turgeon suggested it. "This is definitely the best I've shot the ball this season. I'm playing with confidence and just believing in myself and the team."
With Allen (10 points, two assists) playing a pain-free 20 minutes, there's a lot to believe in. Roddy Peters was steady with five points, five assists and no turnovers, Mitchell came off the bench to chip in six points and a game-high 11 rebounds ("The ball always finds him," said Smotrcyz.), and Faust was again sensational, a lot of pressure off so many Terps with Allen back in the rotation.
"Having one more scorer (Allen) playing takes a lot of pressure off Nick," said Turgeon. "You've got to guard Dez, and when you look at the percentages, who are you going to let shoot? You're going to let Nick shoot but he's knocking them down right now. I'm happy for him and he really defended. He's so much more under control."
Turgeon was proud of the 77 points Maryland put up against a rugged defense, anchored by big man Daniel Miller in the middle. But it was defense that keyed this runaway and will take the Terrapins where they want to go.
"I think since coming back we've been a lot more confident team and I think that's because guys are playing hard and really buying into playing defense," said Smotrycz of Maryland's 3-0 run since the break ended. "We held (Georgia Tech) under 40 percent and if you can do that against ACC teams that will be really good."
After Maryland opened a 20-point bulge early in the second half, Georgia Tech began scrapping back. A 10-3 Jackets' run culminated with a three-point play from Stacey Poole, Jr., to make it 52-39 at 13:45. Allen took over for a few minutes, hitting two free throws and scoring on a drive around a Solomon Poole three-pointer. When Marcus Georges-Hunt scored inside on a rebound, Tech was within 56-44 at 11:29.
But that's when the Terrapins rediscovered their defense, holding the Yellow Jackets without a score for three minutes and six seconds, while scoring the next eight points. Faust hit a three at 11:12, then Cleare scored inside and when Allen nailed a three at 8:42, Maryland's lead was 64-44.
Quinton Stephens hit two three-pointers to get Tech was back within 15, but when Maryland went into the bonus, Wells drilled two free throws at 4:34 to make it 67-50.
Trae Golden scored on the break, and then added another layup after Allen missed the front end of a one-and-one. It was 67-54 with 3:02 remaining when Mitchell missed another front end but Stacey Poole couldn't convert his jumper and Smotrcyz fed Faust for a lay-up and a 69-54 lead at 2:45.
The Ramblin' Wreck never got closer than 12 the rest of the way. Maryland was 11-of-17 at the free throw line but their defense was good enough that never became an issue.
"We've been playing really well lately and as a team we've really been concentrating a lot on defense so I think that's the reason why our offense is going so well," said Faust. "It's because of our defensive pressure."
When the Yellow Jackets missed their first four shots of the second half, Maryland scooted out to a 20-point lead, Cleare getting a three-point play inside and Peters also notching a three-point play on a drive at 17:39 to make it 49-29.
But as quickly as Maryland had build that margin, the Terrapin defense allowed three straight lay-ups, the last on a lob to Miller to make it 49-35 at 16:25.
Smotrycz stopped the run with a three-pointer at 15:56.
The Terrapins had ended the first half on a 16-7 run to push their lead to 43-29 at the break. Maryland had started red-hot from the field, hitting six of the first eight shots and still finished at 51.5 percent (17-of-33) for the half. Smotrycz and Faust each had nine points.
The Yellow Jackets were within five at the 6-minute mark but that's when the Terrapins took off again. Maryland's lead was 32-24 at 4:28 when Golden scored in transition for Tech but Mitchell scored inside from Peters, and after Jonathan Graham drew a charge, Faust hit a three. Stephens got a stickback for the Jackets and then Allen hit a three on an inbounds play to make it 40-26. It was Allen's only basket in the first half.
Next time down, Smotrycz had a three and it was 43-28, at 41.9 seconds, 15 points Maryland's biggest lead of the half. The Terps were 7-of-12 from long range, effectively going inside out, particularly after an early emphasis attacking the basket.
Earlier, Wells and Smotrycz scored in close back-to-back to make the Maryland lead to 24-13, when Smotrycz scored at 10:23. The Ramblin' Wreck came back with a short jumper from Stacey Poole, and then got their first three-pointer of the game at 8:09, Jason Morris' trey making it 25-18.
The Jackets finally got the deficit under seven when Stephens hit two free throws and then Miller hit a runner to make it 27-22 at 6:04. But Maryland bounced right back, Mitchell backing in to hit a short hook over the hulking, 6-11 Miller, and then Peters penetrating in transition and somehow delivering an off-balance bounce pass to Faust in the corner for a three at 5:12, to make it 32-22.
The Terrapins had hit five of their first seven shots and zipped out to a 12-2 lead in the first 4:04 of the game. Cleare got things started with a strong move and soft hook shot at 19:09, and after Kammeon Holsey scored inside for Tech, the Terps ran off the next eight points.
Smotrycz got a stickback after another strong Cleare move, then Wells dunked for a three-point play, and Layman hit his first three. When Peters went coast-to-coast for a lay-in, Maryland led by 10 at 16:56.
After a timeout, Holsey scored twice for Tech around a Layman three. Holsey scored the Jackets' first six points. After Mitchell scored inside, Georges-Hunt drove baseline for a score, and then Bolden hit a floater to make it 20-13 at 12:54.
Georges-Hunt led the Jackets with 11 points, and Stephens and Golden each had 10. It was Maryland's seventh straight win over Goergia Tech in the Comcast Center.
"We had a really good practice (Friday)," said Turgeon. "We really shared the ball, we executed and guys were having fun. It carried over."
Turgeon ran down the minutes played for the nine Terrapins that played. "That's a pretty deep basketball team right there. We're comfortable with all nine of them and it's what we envisioned. We've got a quick turnaround so it was good that guys didn't have to play a lot of minutes. We're getting more confidence, no doubt about it, but we've got to take it on the road now."
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