COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A winning, defense-minded team from Durham, N.C., was in town Dec. 10 to face nationally-ranked Maryland.
But this wasn’t Duke, and even depleted, the 19th-ranked Terrapins were able to notch a 67-56 win over tough North Carolina Central University before 8,723 fans at Xfinity Center to move to 9-1 on the season.
“I kept telling the guys this wasn’t going to be any cakewalk,” said Raushad Pack, who knows NCCU all too well after battling them at North Carolina A&T the last couple of years. ”I made sure they understood how much this game meant to me.”
Veterans Pack and Jake Layman offset the continued absence of fellow seniors Dez Wells and Evan Smotrcyz, and the Terrapins were good enough whenever that had to be after a great run in the first half keyed by Layman.
Pack had a team-high 18 points and Layman, hitting big buckets whenever the Eagles (6-4) soared too close, had 17. Layman was 3-of-5 from 3-point range as the Terrapins canned 7-of-15 (46.7 percent) and hit five in a row during a first half run that all but decided the game.
“(Layman) and I elevate each other’s game by playing off each other’s momentum,” said Pack, who hit 2-of-3 beyond the arc. “We definitely played off each other’s momentum tonight.”
Layman thought it was the Maryland defense that turned the tide after the game was tied 10-10 early. “There was a timeout and Coach (Mark) Turgeon just said we had to lock in and get stops defensively. Don’t worry about the offense at all. I think we got three stops in a row.”
So it was the Maryland defense, holding the Eagles below 30 percent shooting in the first half that took charge against a team noted for it’s defensive prowess. NCCU had come in on a five-game winning steak in which that ballyhooed defense allowed just 43.5 points per game.
On the season, NCCU was ninth in the nation, allowing just 34.6 percent shooting by opponents, and only 53.4 points, 10th in the country.
“I was really nervous all day because I knew how good they are,” said Turgeon.
Maryland shot 48.8 percent, though the Terrapins cooled off in the second half. The Eagles played better the final 20 minutes, and Turgeon, with an eye on that 11 a.m., tip-off Dec. 13 against USC Upstate, substituted vigorously to rest some of his stalwarts.
Melo Trimble, who had 12 points, including 8-of-8 at the free throw line wasn’t in the final two-plus minutes to hit all the free throws per usual.
“The second half we treaded water,” admitted Turgeon. “I subbed more trying to keep guys fresh for an early game [Dec. 13], and I thought Central was much better in the second half.”
Jon Graham gave the Terps some good minutes with six points and six rebounds, and Jared Nickens had six points and four rebounds.
North Carolina Central, which trailed by as many as 23 points, had one last push, pulling within striking distance when Jordan Parks scored back-to-back baskets to make it 61-45 with 5:26 left. Parks was a beast all night with 18 points and 10 rebounds, playing all 40 minutes.
Trimble hit two free throws but when Dante Holmes got a steal and a three-point play at 2:14, the Eagles were within 63-50.
Pack hit three of four free throws after a foul and a technical on Holmes, but Anthony McDonald hit a 3-pointer at 1:19, to cut it back to 66-53. The favorites to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference were out of time, though, and despite the Terrapins hitting nary a field goal the last 7:14 of the game, they escaped thanks to defense and free throws.
Maryland was 18-of-27 at the line (66.7 percent), including 12-of-19 down in the second half. Pack was 7-of-10 to go with Trimble’s perfect night but the Eagles outhustled Maryland to hang around. They had a 21-16 rebounding edge in the second half, including seven offensive boards.
But the Eagles didn’t have any eagle eyes from the field. They picked up where they left off in the first half, missing seven of their first 10 shots to start the second half. They weren’t able to make a move until almost midway through the second half when they held the Terrapins scoreless for almost two minutes. Karamo Jawara scored inside, and McDonald hit a three to make it 50-34 at 10:56.
But Layman hit a driving 12-footer off a Dodd screen – Damonte Dodd knocking his defender to the ground and then screening Layman’s man – as NCCU coach LeVelle Moton screamed for a foul. Instead, Moton got a technical and Trmble drilled both freebies
Parks got a dunk at the end of a press-break, and when Nimrod Hilliard got a three-point play after a steal, it was 54-39, and the hustling Eagles seemed to be coming up with every rebound and every loose ball.
Before the situation could turn dire, though, Layman coolly hit another 3-pointer right in front of his own bench, and next time down, Trimble got two more free throws as the Terrapins went into the bonus with 8:17 to play, and led 59-39.
“We have a good team, I enjoy coaching these guys,” said Turgeon. “We’re overcoming some adversity with two starters out, and we just keep getting it done. We keep getting better. The second half probably wasn’t a lot of fun to watch with all the stoppage but it was a nice little clinic we put on there for a while.”
The Terrapins led 39-18 at the half but it never seemed that easy against scrappy North Carolina Central. Maryland heated up to shoot 63.6 percent, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range (62.5 percent).
Maryland had seven turnovers in the first eight minutes and was in a death-struggle with defense-minded NCCU. When Parks hit a 3-pointer at 12:15, the score was tied at 10-10.
Layman lifted Maryland in a 25-4 run from that point, scoring eight points himself and assisting three other baskets, including a three by Pack at 7:33 to make it 22-12. Michal Cekovsky also gave Maryland some good minutes over that stretch with a tip-in, and a lay-in from Layman. He finished with six points and two rebounds.
“We started getting stops,” said Trimble. “We were trading baskets so the biggest thing to open up a lead was to get stops. We worked on defense all week.”
Layman found Nickens for an open three, then Nickens hit one of his own making at 6:21 to make it 28-12, part of five straight threes by the Terps. Maryland held the Eagles without a score for 3:50 before McDonald scored on a drive to make it 28-14, at 5:26. But Layman knocked down a quick three and then Pack scored from Dodd, who had five points and six rebounds in a solid half, but finished with those same numbers.
Layman found a hole in the middle of the NCCU zone and took advantage, something the Terrapins have worked at more in recent weeks and expect to need Dec. 13. USC Upstate has played entire games in a zone, according to Turgeon.
“When we got it going, (Jake) was instrumental in that,” said Turgeon. “I see it every day so I expect it. What Jake has realized in the last 10 days is that he has good players around him. He doesn’t have to force things. He got nine shots in (27) minutes and that’s where he has grown the most.
“We were playing through Dez and Melo, and now we’re playing through Jake and Melo.”
After two NCCU free throws by Parks, Layman dunked on a Dodd feed and when Pack hit two free throws at 1:13, the Terrapins had their biggest lead at 39-16.
Holmes drove in for a score with 36 seconds remaining, just the Eagles’ third field goal in the final 12:14 of the half. The Terrapins held NCCU to just 7-of-25 from the field (28 percent) and 2-of-12 behind the arc (16.7 percent), showing off some defense of their own.
“We were terrific on that 25-4 run,” said Turgeon. “We got our defense going. We started making shots. We got our defense going, and we were just really good. To be up 21 on this team at half was an amazing feat.”
Notably after that horrid start handling the ball, Maryland had just one turnover the last 12 minutes of the first half.
“It wasn’t strange to me,” said Pack, again familiar with NCCU. “We just didn’t start well because we turned the ball over. That’s what happens when you turn the ball over, you don’t get shot attempts. I knew we’d get out of it and we’d get in the groove.”
As for the injured Terrapins, Wells got his cast off the broken wrist Monday and is in a hard splint now. His timetable is to return the end of December, the first of January, like it has been.
Smotrcyz hasn’t practiced since reinjuring his foot, and he still has soreness. Turgeon called him day-to-day.
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