COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A lot of the feel-good about Maryland’s undefeated start was pushed and shoved right out of Xfinity Center in the first half Nov. 20.
A physical Fordham team literally pushed the Terrapins to the brink for the first 20 minutes, and then, well, Maryland pushed back, pulling away for a 66-50 victory that ran the record to 3-0, and set the stage for bigger tests at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, starting Nov. 24 in Kansas City, Mo., against Arizona State.
“The fact that we’re going to face adversity throughout the year, it was good we had to fight back and open the lead a little more,” said freshman Jared Nickens, who had a team-high 13 points, many at the most opportune of times when Maryland was struggling against Fordham (1-2) on the offensive end.
Nickens was one of many youngsters listening to their elders at half in what is now somewhat of a team tradition. “The halftime speech from the veterans was pretty much keep playing defense how we’re playing, we’ll hit shots,” said grad student Richaud Pack. “Dez (Wells) said some stuff, Evan (Smotrycz) said some stuff, I said some stuff, Coach (Mark Turgeon), too, echoed (that) we’d hit shots, just keep playing defense.”
Maryland didn’t hit much of anything in the first half for a team shooting 55 percent from the field coming in. They were just 8-of-22 from the floor (36.4 percent) and they couldn’t even hit free throws (2 of 10).
“I think it was good for us to kind of struggle offensively and go through some adversity,” said junior Jake Layman, who had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. “We had been shooting the lights out in every game, and then tonight we didn’t. I think defensively all game we were locked in. We were great on that end.”
Good thing. The Terrapins scored a season-low 66 points, shot a season-low 44.7 percent for the game, saw Layman get into early foul trouble and a rugged 2-3 zone take some of the starch out of Dez Wells’ game. Wells finished with eight points, hitting three of only six shots, his fewest attempts since the Syracuse game last February.
“I was just trying to come in and have an impact on the game,” said Nickens, who was 4-of-12 from the field and had a career-high six rebounds. “We had a mindset we wanted to spread the lead (out).”
Nickens was the ringleader of a bench brigade that outscored Fordham’s substitutes 26-5. Michal Cekovsky had a career-high six points to go with five big rebounds, another personal best. Dion Wiley didn’t hit a jumper but had five points, three rebounds and two assists. Rebounds were at a premium all night, the Rams battling to a 38-38 stalemate on the glass, including a whopping 17 offensive boards, many on long caroms. Fordham was 7-for-29 (24.1 percent) from 3-point range. Fordham had a 14-11 edge in second chance points.
In fact, Richaud Pack led Maryland with his season-high eight rebounds to go with nine points on a marvelously efficient 4-of-6 shooting. The only place he stumbled was at the free throw line (0-of-2) and all the Terrapins floundered, shooting just 16-of-27 (59.3 percent), and that was with the team hitting 12 of the last 14 free throw attempts.
“Richaud is really solid,” said Turgeon. “He does everything right and guards the best player. He plays multiple poisitions and is really unselfish.”
Strong Start in Second Half
Melo Trimble, on his way to eight points and two assists, hit a three over that sticky zone to open the second half and push the lead to seven points but 6-7 Chris Sengfelder answered with a three. Layman drove for a layup and then Trimble buried a three on a wonderful possession where the ball whipped around and Damonte Dodd kicked to him for the open shot and a 31-21 lead at the 18-minute mark.
Nickens agreed with an assessment that he and the other freshmen fly under the radar compared to Trimble, less pressure to produce. But he said Trimble does things fans might not notice. “He’s a good player. It helps the wings because everybody is trying to pressure him, so it takes the focus off me and Dion. We just come in and look make shots for the team.”
Sengfelder, on his way to eight points, hit another three but Wells answered with a big-time swoop to the hoop, plus a free throw (this one unlike so many in the first half, made) to push the lead back to 10.
Wiley would get one of two at the line and then Layman got a dunk on the break when Wiley skillfully dropped the ball back to him. Pack got a steal and fed Layman for another dunk. It was 39-24 at 13:29, and the crowd of 9,022 at the Xfinity Center was breathing a little easier after leading by just five at the break.
The Terrapin defense, so good most of this early season, also played a role, holding Fordham to just two field goals in the first six-and-a-half minutes of the second half. The Rams, who could muster just 22.6 percent shooting (7-of-31) in the first 20 minutes, could only up that to 29 percent in the second half, finishing 19-of-62 for the game (30.6 percent).
“I thought we were terrific defensively tonight,” said Turgeon. “I thought we guarded and guarded and guarded some more.”
Ryan Rhoomes with 14 points inside, and Thomas Mandell with 14 from the perimeter, though he had to take 20 shots to get there, led Fordham, playing a different style then Turgeon and the team had seen on tape. Mandel hit five of those 20 hoists, and was 3-of-13 from 3-point range, against a team that despite not getting much work switching screens so far, performed that task with aplomb this night.
“We did a good job for the most part controlling their penetration, making them shoot jump-shots over a hand,” Turgeon added. “I thought in second half we got in a much better flow offensively, shot 52 percent (13-of-25), made some free throws and executed at a much higher level.”
The Terrapins would lead by as many as 19, at 4:18, when Cekovsky got a stickback on a flurry on the glass created by he and Nickens to make it 53-34 . The Terrapins needed Cekovsky to come up big, literally, against a Fordham front line that often employed the 6-10 Manny Suarez and 6-8 Rhoomes in tandem.
Dodd made his second straight start and had three points and four rebounds. Jon Graham got only 13 minutes, contributing two rebounds and some hustle but Fordham’s size made him less effective than he had been in the first two lopsided wins.
Frustrating First Half
“It was not as pretty as you would like it any other night but it was a good win,” said a pleased Turgeon. “I thought Fordham played really well, and they had to slow it down a lot because they had a guy out. We prepared for a totally different team than what we played against.”
The Rams were also without A-10 Rookie of the Week Eric Paschall, who had 31 points and 10 rebounds in his first college game last week against New York Institute of Technology. In a physical examination Tuesday, Paschall was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. He underwent further tests the next two days and has been cleared to resume play, but apparently not in time for the Nov. 20 tilt.
Rams coach Tom Pecora thought not having Paschall and another key player, freshman guard Antwoine Anderson made a difference. “The guys played real hard and they competed,” he said. “A lot of our misses were right there. I think the first five minutes of the second half got them the separation they needed. I think (Maryland is) very impressive the way that they all play to their strengths and nobody is trying to do things they can’t do.”
The final play of the half typified the frustrating first 20 minutes, Jon Severe stripping Trimble at midcourt and racing in for a layup that made it 23-18 with 0.8 seconds left.
Trailing by six early, Fordham rammed back into the game with a physical style that seemed to catch the Terrapins off guard. When Rhoomes backed Graham down and scored, Maryland led just 16-15 at 4:44.
Wells tipped in a Trimble miss and Pack made a great play getting inside the Rams’ long-armed zone defense, faking two players on his way to a baseline lay-in. Rhoomes hit a free throw but then Nickens pinballed a baseline 3-pointer in for a 23-16 lead at 1:58, his second big three of the half.
The Terrapins shot out to an early 11-5 lead, hitting three of their first four 3-point attempts, two by Layman. But at about 14 minutes, Fordham switched to a 2-3 zone and held the Terrapins without a field goal over the next five minutes. That was also about the time Layman went to the bench with his second foul.
Fortunately, the Maryland defense limited the Rams to just six points over that five-minute span, Rhoomes cutting the lead to 13-11 at 9:55, on an old-fashioned 3-point play. With Layman already out, Turgeon tested his Terps, also sitting Wells and Trimble against the zone.
Nickens came up big with a three at 9:23 to make it 16-11, and the Terrapins were missing numerous chances for a larger lead, missing eight of 10 free throw attempts in a brick-happy first half at the line.
The Terrapins previous low in a half was 38 points in the first half of the Central Connecticut game. Maryland shot 36.4 percent from the field in the first half on the way to these 23 points. They hadn’t been below 50 percent so far this season in any half.
The next home game is Nov. 28 against Monmouth.
Terps Toughen Up, Take Fordham
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