Terps' ACC Tourney Swan Song

Maryland will begin its final ACC tournament March 13 at noon against Florida State in Greensboro, N.C., but they'll be doing so without one of their greatest supporters. On March 11, the team learned that beloved former team manager Zach Lederer, 20, who started a nationwide trend with his signature strongman pose known as "Zaching," had died of brain cancer.

Maryland will begin its final ACC tournament March 13 at noon against Florida State in Greensboro, N.C., but they'll be doing so without one of their greatest supporters. On March 11, the team learned that beloved former team manager Zach Lederer, 20, who started a nationwide trend with his signature strongman pose known as "Zaching," had died of brain cancer.

There was a candlelight vigil at the Comcast Center later that night, which the men's basketball team attended before departing for Greensboro in the morning.

"My heart goes out to the Lederer family," Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement. "Zach was an outstanding young man who was an inspiration to us all. He had a great passion for life and was a true fighter. Zach not only had a powerful impact on our program, but he touched the lives of so many people in our community. He is and always will be a part of our Maryland basketball family and will be greatly missed."

Many Terps took to Twitter and social media to offer their condolences, and junior wing Dez Wells had previously stated he would dedicate all of his games to Lederer and his family.

Now, the team will do its best to honor Lederer by playing its best in the program's last ACC tournament before shifting to the Big Ten. Maryland (17-14, 9-9 ACC) is actually playing some of its most inspiring basketball heading into the postseason, having knocked off Virginia Tech, 64-47, March 4 and then defeating No. 5 Virginia, 75-69, in overtime March 9.

Showing patience and improved ball movement, Maryland shot 48 percent from the field against the Wahoos' top-ranked defense, while the UMD defense held the Cavs to less than a 40 percent clip.

Sophomore guard Seth Allen led the way with 20 points, while Wells dropped in 18 and junior forward Evan Smotrycz came out firing with 13 first-half points.

What was most impressive, however, had nothing to do with numbers. After blowing a three-point lead at the end of regulation and allowing Virginia to tie the game on an Anthony Gill jumper with a second left, Maryland remained resilient. Turgeon urged his players to give it everything they had during the five-minute extra period, and for one of the few times this year, the team responded with authority, outscoring UVA 11-5 in overtime.

"[We're] very dangerous," Allen said after the game. "When we're playing together … we can play with anybody."

The performance was a major relief for a Terps team that had recently lost by single digits to ranked foes like then-No. 17 UVA, then-No. 8 Duke and then-No. 4 Syracuse before an excruciating double-overtime defeat at Clemson.

"We played so many good teams this year. We were really, really close, and just couldn't get over that hump," said sophomore wing Jake Layman, who scored 10 points and nailed all eight of his free throws against Virginia. "But our confidence is really high going into the tournament right now. We felt all year we could play with anybody, but right now we're feeling really, really good."

The Terps needed to run off those two victories over Va Tech and Virginia just to reach .500 in the league. That pretty much guarantees them a spot in the NIT following the ACC Tournament, a possibility that was tenuous after falling to Clemson March 2.

"I think everybody in the league knows we're pretty good and our guys know we're pretty good," Turgeon said following the UVA game. "It's hard to win in this league… To get to 9-9 is a step; it gives us confidence going down to Greensboro.

"I'm happy for the guys, it's been hard. We're trying to build something, and it's been hard, but we're making strides."

Maryland will be taking on another team March 13 that has had its share of ups and downs this year as well. Florida State (18-12, 9-9 ACC) just lost to No. 7 Syracuse, 74-58, ending an impressive three-game winning streak that included victories over Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Boston College.

The Terps and Seminoles have already met twice this season, splitting the series. On Jan. 24 in Tallahassee, Fla., the Noles drained 16 3-pointers in an 85-61 rout. But on Feb. 8, behind Allen's career-high 32 points, Maryland returned the favor with an 83-71 win at the Comcast Center. The winner of the rubber match will face top-seeded Virginia March 14 at noon.

FSU enters this matchup as the ACC's sixth-best scoring team (71.2 points per game), but as the No. 1 shooting squad, as they can 46.5 percent of their field goals. The Noles also excel from downtown (37.2 percent, second in the league) and from the charity stripe (72.6 percent, fourth).

Sophomore guard Aaron Thomas, who drained three 3s and scored 17 points against UMD in the last meeting, leads the way at 14.1 points per game and shoots 38 percent from deep. Senior guard Ian Miller, who just returned from an ankle injury in early March, puts up 13.7 a night; shoots 40 percent from downtown; and averages three assists.

Senior forward Okaro White drops in 13.3 points per game, sophomore guard Devon Bookert cans 39.8 percent of his treys, and sophomore guard Montay Brandon chips in 8.0 points per game.

"They've been lights out from 3, so we have to watch out for that," Layman said previously. "And [in the paint] they're strong, but we have a bunch of good bigs that can handle their strength down low. But, really, they don't run too much on offense, we just have to play by our principles and get stops."

But while they can score, Florida State does tend to turn the ball over, and the Seminoles are just 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio. In the last UMD-FSU matchup, the Noles gave the ball away 16 times, and Maryland came up with nine steals. Thomas, Miller and Bookert all average two or more hiccups per game.

Defensively, FSU is among the nation's best and boasts the ACC's No. 1 field-goal percentage defense at 39.7 percent. The Noles also allow just 66 points per outing, ranking in the conference's top third as well. They come away with about six steals per night (sixth in the ACC) and 5.5 blocks per (second), although they are just ninth in rebounding.

Thomas ranks with the ACC's leaders at 1.5 steals per game, while 7-foot-3 center Boris Bojanovsky is among the top shot blockers at 1.9 per. White leads FSU with almost seven rebounds a night, while Brandon adds in about five.

"They're so long and they have a lot of quick guards," Layman said previously. "But that can work to our advantage. We have to try to get mismatches with our quicker guards against their longer ones. And if we do that I think things will work out well."

We'll see if that's the case tomorrow afternoon. And if Maryland can take care of business March 13 and then somehow shock UVA for a second straight time a day later, well, maybe they can make a run a la John Gilchrist and the 2004 Terps. "We're a tournament team, and that's what we're looking for coming in to the [ACC] Tournament," Allen said.

Said Wells:

"We all really know what our status is as far as the NCAA tournament, but we're just playing like we have nothing to lose," Wells said. "Any team that you're playing against that has that mentality and that type of attitude about them is a very dangerous team."

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