Maryland All Smiles After Win Over Notre Dame
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Seth Allen did exactly what his coach told him to do.
Right after his lob to Dez Wells for a dunk, part of a blitz to bring the Terrapins back in a "must-win" game Wednesday night against Notre Dame, Allen turned to the large student contingent at midcourt, smiled broadly and pumped his fists.
The Comcast Center crowd responded and struggling Maryland was struggling no more, now on the way to a 74-66 Atlantic Coast Conference victory over Notre Dame.
"This is a big win for us," said Allen who made his first start of the season. "We just went out and had fun and played our game. It was a relief because we came off two big losses. You don't want to talk about them but they're there. We responded on our home court."
The two 20-point losses at Pittsburgh and Florida State had set off some soul-searching inside Comcast Center, and coach Mark Turgeon admitted he was out of basketball knowledge to impart to his slumping team.
So he went in a different direction in the locker room after Maryland trailed 34-25 at the end of another lackluster first half. "I didn't really know what to say, so I walked in there and said, ‘I don't know what I've done to you guys but we're not playing the way we're capable. We'll make a pact. We're just going to have fun. We're going to smile, have fun. If you miss a shot, it's okay. You can smile. We're just going to try to have fun and if you do that and we play the way we're capable we're going to win this game.'"
And Maryland (11-7 overall, 3-2 ACC) played some of its best basketball of the season, shooting 48 percent, pounding the Fighting Irish in the paint and defending with newfound vigor. Guards Allen, Wells and Nick Faust put the clamps on Notre Dame's perimeter game, shackling point guard Eric Atkins (11 points, six assists but also five turnovers), and hot-shooting Pat Connaughton (just four of his 19 points in the second half and those at the line).
"It started on the defensive end, our defense carried our offense," said Wells of the Terrapin turnaround.
On the other end, Wells led the attack with 17 points, and no one was denying him one-on-one. He either scored, got to the line where he was 11-of-13 after missing his first two, or created for teammates. Allen had 14 points, four assists and no turnovers in 27 minutes. Faust had 13 points and Turgeon said he "couldn't take him out, he was playing so well."
Maryland scored the first eight points of the second half and whittled a nine-point deficit down to 34-33 at 13:38, when Charles Mitchell, who got six of his seven rebounds on the offensive end, nabbed his second straight stickback basket. Allen had started the run with a score and then his lob to Wells got the Comcast crowd of 13,878 really involved.
"We have to take advantage of these home games because we don't have many," said Allen. "I had to get the crowd into it. They help us tremendously."
And the load on this team seemed to lift off before the crowd's eyes, the Terrapins coming from behind to hand Notre Dame (10-7, 1-3) a third straight loss.
"The kind of year it's been, it just hasn't gone the way we wanted," said Turgeon. "There was a lot of pressure. We had to win this game, and I think our guys felt it. That said, I think the crowd in the second half was tremendous. And we really guarded in the second half."
The Fighting Irish missed five shots and had four turnovers before 6-11 Garrick Sherman got a hook shot down at 13:15 to make it 36-33, Notre Dame's first socre in the second stanza.
Mitchell got another stickback and then after a flurry on the Irish glass in front of the Notre Dame bench, where Maryland again came away with a rebound – the Terps grabbed the first nine missed shots of the second half and finished with a 40-31 overall edge – Rockville native Mike Brey, the Irish coach, was assessed a technical for vociferously protesting the Terrapins' physicality and the officials' alleged unwillingness to help do anything about it.
Jake Layman, on his way to eight points and a career-high 10 rebounds, hit one of two free throws to tie the score 36-36 at 12:10. When Allen canned a three-pointer at 11:55, and again worked the crowd, the Terps had their first lead (39-36) since 14:22 of the first half. A Faust lob to Layman for a lay-in over that pesky 2-3 zone made it a five-point lead, the Terps opening the half on a 16-2 spree.
"We're getting better, this is definitely a confidence-booster," said Faust, who scored in double figures for the sixth time in the last seven games. "It was simple, it was just coming out and playing looser. We really turned it up a notch defensively and really got after it."
Notre Dame, down 11 at 2:21, wouldn't go away thanks to several unusual plays. A four-point play at 2:14 when Austin Burgett hit a three and added a free throw on a foul by Mitchell, was one. Then after Wells couldn't score on a drive, his inbound pass to half court to Allen was tipped by Atkins and Demetrius Jackson ended up with a lay-up to make it 66-61 at 1:48.
In need of a big play, Wells and Faust turned one in. Wells again drove hard to the basket. Surrounded by defenders, he kicked the ball out to Faust in the left corner and Faust seemed to struggle to gain his balance but it didn't stop him from calmly draining a three-pointer at 1:14 to push the lead back to eight.
Meantime, Maryland got offense from Mitchell (10 points, 5-of-7 shooting) and Shaquille Cleare (seven points on 3-of-5 shooting). Evan Smotrycz was just 2-of-12 from the field but chipped in five points, eight boards and two steals.
The Terrapins also hit 10 of their final 11 free throws to hold off the visitors. For the night, the once-charity-stripe-challenged Terrapins were 17-of-23 (73.9 percent), including 17-of-20 in the second half, when first they needed them to come from behind, and then they needed them to keep the Irish behind.
Burgett hit a three to make it 69-64, but just 47 seconds remained. Wells and then Allen both hit a pair of free throws and the celebration was on.
"(Turgeon) came in and said, ‘You guys are playing on eggshells,'" said Cleare of the halftime message. "Basically, the whole time he said to have fun and play hard."
After the Terrapins threw that haymaker to start the second half, Notre Dame staggered, struggling to score and missing five of eight free throws as Maryland built a nine-point lead. Smotrycz hit a three-pointer to make it 46-41 at 8:46, and after an Atkins layup, the Irish came out of the zone they had used since the first four minutes of the game. Wells immediately overpowered Jackson to score a three-point play.
After a defensive stop, Wells hit two more free throws, and Faust got one of two after a stop. Suddenly, the nine-point halftime deficit was a 52-43 lead with 7:13 to play.
Connaughton, who was cooled off in the second half by Wells and Faust, hit two free throws but Allen answered with a three, and Maryland's lead was 55-45 with six minutes to play. Atkins got a three-pointer but Cleare got the ball in the lane and made a strong move, cashing in for a three-point play and a 58-48 margin at 5:08.
"If you take a big shot and it goes in, then you really feel loose," said Cleare, clearly buying into Turgeon's tenet. "You just start playing team ball."
Not so much in the first half. Notre Dame led 34-25 at the half after hitting 58 percent (14-of-24) from the field. The Terps, after a promising start slumped to 32.4 percent shooting (11-of-34) and were a horrific-hide-your-eyes 3-of-16 (18.8 percent) from three-point range. They did manage a 20-15 rebounding edge including a whopping 13 offensive rebounds that helped the Terrapins stay in the hunt. Maryland finished with half its 40 rebounds on the offensive glass.
The Terps had no answer, though, for Connaughton, who hit 5-of-7 shots (3-of-4 from deep) and had nearly half of the Notre Dame points at the break with his 15. He got hot, Turgeon said, after Wells failed to get through a screen, and the coach did tell his star about that at the half. "I just said, ‘Dez you have to be better,'" he said.
The Fighting Irish went on a 15-2 run midway through the first half to take control. Over a span of nearly five minutes, Notre Dame hit 5-of-8 shots and opened up a 12-point lead. While the Terrapins were – stop me if you've heard this before – struggling against the 2-3 zone the Irish employed after about four minutes, Connaughton got red hot.
He scored 10 straight points during the run, including two three-pointers, and after Faust ended a Maryland scoring drought of five minutes and one second with a lob dunk from Allen, Connaughton drilled another three.
When Zach Auguste scored in transition, the Notre Dame lead was 26-14 with 8:25 left in the half.
Faust got a steal and dunk and Layman added a baseline drive and dunk to cut it back to eight, but Burgett answered with a layup. Mitchell had a couple of stickbacks and Faust hit a three but the Terrapins never got closer than seven points the rest of the half.
Maryland shot out to a 10-4 lead in the first 4:02 of the game. The Terrapins hit four of their first five shots, looking smoother on that end while playing more aggressively on defense. The Irish turned the ball over on their first two possessions, Smotrycz scoring inside from Layman and then Cleare scoring down low from Layman.
When Layman hit a three at 18:01, it was 7-2, and it was 10-4 when Allen got a three at 16:56.
After that cold start, though, Notre Dame warmed up behind Atkins. He had a three to bring the Irish within one and then Connaughton's short baseline jumper gave them their first lead, 11-10, the end of a 7-0 run. Allen put Maryland back up on a drive but Connaughton & Co., were just getting started.
Sherman had 18 points for the Irish but Cleare and Mitchell were effective, too. Allen cut off Atkins, who had a thumb injury, in the second half, and Wells, heeding Turgeon's words, took Connaughton out of the mix, Faust also helping on both Irish backcourt stars.
Allen didn't know he was starting until he saw his name on the whiteboard just before tip-off. He had tweaked his ankle Tuesday but continues to work back into the mix. "It's not really an adjustment, it's an adjustment playing-timewise because guys can get extra rest," said Allen. "I'm just an extra body."
His teammates and the fans he enthralled Wednesday would likely disagree with his humble assessment.
Turgeon said Maryland actually wasn't as deep. Notre Dame's heavy reliance on a zone defense sort of took freshman guard Roddy Peters out of the mix, Peters playing just eight minutes, his fewest this season. Jonathan Graham got just six minutes.
"This is where you really find out what kind of team we have," said Wells. "We didn't give up. We fought through to the end and we competed. That's all Coach Turgeon wants to see from us, just fight. He knows it's inside of us."
Maryland has five days before traveling to NC State Monday for a 9:00 game. The next home game is a rematch with Pittsburgh Jan. 25.
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