COLLEGE PARK, MD – The Terrapins found a timely shooting touch to get back in the win column despite losing a key player in the second half.
Maryland snapped a two-game losing streak with a 64-47 win over Virginia Tech Tuesday night at Comcast Center in a game somewhat overshadowed by an incident at halftime when forward Charles Mitchell briefly left the Comcast Center, angry after a confrontation with coaches.
Mitchell kicked a chair in the hallway and had his coat over his uniform in the back hallway before assistant coach Juan Dixon chased him down and got him back on the Maryland bench midway through the second half.
"It's discipline and I asked him to go to the locker room," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon of an incident coming out of the half. "I just met with Charles and we're going to sleep on it and talk tomorrow."
Turgeon had a lot to talk over with the Terrapins (16-14, 8-9) at the half, as they trailed struggling Virginia Tech. "He kind of got on us at halftime and it got us going," said Jake Layman, who was not in the starting lineup for the first time in 27 games. "We played with more determination in the second half. In the first half we were more lackadaisical."
Layman, who was a dreadful 1-of-14 shooting in the loss at Clemson, was one of the Terps who found his stroke. He hit 4-of-10 this game, all four makes and nine of the attempts from behind the arc, as Maryland shot the Hokies (9-20, 2-15) out of that 2-3 zone they had been using to hang around in games lately.
Turgeon said it wasn't Layman's offense that had put him on the bench, and not to worry, the sophomore sharpshooter had a team-high 13 points in 28 minutes. "I told them, the only one that can give you confidence is yourselves," said the coach. "What Jake did tonight is he defended better. The shots, I know Jake can make, especially against the zone. It's just defending better, and I thought he was much better defensively."
The entire Terrapin team was better in that regard the second half. They held Virginia Tech to 22.7 percent shooting and forced 10 turnovers that frame. But it all started with a defensive play from Dez Wells, who added 11 points, four assists, three rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
"Start of the second half, Dez made the play of the game," said Turgeon. "(He) got the steal, the three point play (and) our energy level was different. We had a positive attitude and I thought our defense was terrific."
Wells' play got the crowd of 10,517 back into the game and he turned the fastbreak into a three-point to put the Terps back on top 31-29. They wouldn't trail again. In fact, a 15-4 run to start the second half saw them lead 43-33 at 13:50 when Layman drilled the second of two consecutive 3-pointers.
Maryland hit six of the first eight 3-point attempts of the half – that timely touch -- to negate Tech's sagging 2-3 zone defense and force the Hokies to play a little quicker, now trailing by double figures. Nick Faust and Seth Allen also had threes during the spree.
It was a welcome change for the Terrapins who had shot less than 36 percent and scored less than 56 points in regulation each of the last two games, losses to Clemson and Syracuse.
And while Maryland's 40.6 percent shooting in the second half and 30 percent behind the arc (6-of-20) wasn't anything to write home about, the Terrapins did hit their shots at big moments to ultimately bury the struggling Hokies, who have now lost 15 of their last 16, and five in a row.
Virginia Tech could muster just 30.6 percent (15-of-49) shooting overall, and though the Hokies had a 30-20 edge in rebounds, they were awful in other areas. Seventeen turnovers turned into an 18-0 Maryland edge in points off turnovers, and Maryland's bench, even without Mitchell in the second half, outscored Tech's 25-5.
Big Joey Van Zegeren, who had 14 points and nine rebounds helped the Hokies to a big 19-7 edge in second chance points to keep them in the contest.
"It doesn't matter how you start a game, it matters how you finish," said Wells. "I felt we finished strong and we have good momentum going into our next game. That's where our focus is."
And that next game is No. 5 Virginia, already the ACC regular season champion, rolling into Comcast on noon Sunday for not only Maryland's final ACC regular season game but yet another shot for the Terrapins at a big RPI win. It could also be a huge momentum boost for a team that didn't win back-to-back games all of February.
Turgeon hopes the momentum and postseason push began in the second half Tuesday. "That was a good night for us. Virginia Tech has played everybody really tough here lately except for Duke…I thought in the first half Virginia Tech made some shots. Our transition defense wasn't very good and our rebounding wasn't very good and they made us pay for those."
Maryland was better all over in the second half, outscoring the Hokies 36-18. The Terrapins were efficient – 18 assists and a season-low five assists – on offense and stifling on defense.
Maryland pushed the lead to 20 points, the last at 64-44 at 58.6 seconds when Damonte Dodd got a dunk, and in the slow-down style like the injured Hokies have opted to play, a 15-and-20-point deficit seems much more daunting.
Scholarship players have combined to miss 34 games due to injuries or illness this season for beleaguered coach James Johnson's club. On this night, he was missing starting guard Adam Smith, promising freshman Ben Emelegou and important big man Cadarian Raines. The Hokies lost forward C.J. Barksdale to a second half injury, too.
"The first four minutes of the second half really hurt us," said Johnson. "Turning the basketball over and we went four minutes without scoring. And we're just not built…we're a team that's just not built for coming back from a deficit like that."
Van Zegeren had a tip-in at 8:34 to make it 50-42, but that was as close as Tech would get the rest of the way. Maryland scored the next 12 points, starting with a Roddy Peters' 16-footer, a sure sign that the Terrapins had found their touch.
Wells got a fastbreak dunk from Allen, Evan Smotrycz hit two free throws and Layman canned his fourth and final 3-pointer. Shaquille Cleare, who played 17 minutes, his most in 10 games, dunked off a Smotrcyz feed and then Layman hit one of two free throws to push the lead to 20 points for the first time, 62-42 at 3:04.
"It was his day, he's fresh," said Turgeon. "Shaq stays in shape and he works hard. That was a big time dunk. He had some nice rebounds and he played smarter defensively as the (second) half wore on. Shaq was good."
Cleare finished with six points, his most in 13 games (since seven against Notre Dame, and he hadn't scored in the last five contests) and three rebounds.
"He had to step up tonight, and that's what I told him," said Wells. "He stepped up and played big minutes tonight. Roddy played well, too. Roddy is getting a lot better and so is Damonte. I'm just happy to see our guys get out there on the court and do what they know how to do. We played hard. It's a big step for us as a team."
Smotrcyz, Allen and Faust all finished with eight points, apiece, Allen adding five assists and just one turnover. Peters and Mitchell each had four, Mitchell adding two rebounds and a block, all in 12 minutes in the first half.
Turgeon wouldn't say what Mitchell's status is heading into the big Virginia finale.
Jonathan Graham had two rebounds in six minutes, and Dodd had the dunk, a rebound, an assist and a steal in seven minutes. Turgeon cleared the bench in the final minute, Varun Ram, John Auslander, Jacob Susskind, Conner Lipinski and Spencer Barks all getting in.
Maryland's momentum may have really begun late in the first half. The Terrapins closed the first half on an 11-6 run, including a dunk by Faust at two seconds. Still Maryland trailed 29-28, Virginia Tech's first halftime lead in the last four games. The Hokies worked inside and out to earn that lead.
They had a 21-11 rebounding advantage that translated into a 10-2 edge in second chance points, and they hit 5-of-10 3-point attempts, including three by Eddie, who finished with 14 points.
Maryland hung around thanks to six apiece from Smotrycz and by Wells, who got all of his points in the late run. His jumper at 3:04 briefly put Maryland back in front, 24-23.
After trailing by four a couple of times, the Hokies took their first lead when Marshall Wood canned two free throws at 10:06, to make it 17-15. When Eddie and Will Johnston hit back to back 3-pointers, it was 23-17 at 8:18, at the end of a 14-4 run.
Wells hit two free throws at 6:35 to end a Terrapin scoring drought of three minutes and seven seconds. Layman hit a three at 5:09 to make it 23-22, and it seemed like a big three for the sophomore after the Clemson debacle.
Earlier, it was another slow start for the Terrapins, though they were hotter than the Hokies, who missed six of their first nine shots. Maryland crept out to an 8-4 lead at 15:30 when Smotrycz hit his second 3-pointer over Tech's 2-3 zone.
Allen got a layup and then hit a three from a Graham inside-out feed to make it 13-9, but Barksdale got a three-point play to make it a one-point game. After Cleare scored inside, Eddie hit a three at 11:04 to make it 15-15.
The Hokies' final total of 47 points was their second lowest scoring output this season.
Turgeon is still looking for consistency at both ends. About the slightly improved shooting he said, "It's a fine line. We have a lot of good shooters that aren't making shots. The shots I don't like are the quick ones. Or a pass is thrown at your feet, and you bobble it and still shoot it anyway…We have a thing that we say to let the post touch it before we shoot it, and we probably had five or six of those where it didn't really happen. For the most part our zone offense was really good. We got a lot of really good looks and that's what you ask for."
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