COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- If crowd control is a big issue in college basketball these days, Maryland needs work. If coming through in the clutch is a big deal in college basketball, well, then Maryland is right on target.
The No. 14 Terrapins gutted out a 59-53 thriller over 5th-ranked Wisconsin Feb. 24 at Xfinity Center before a sellout crowd of 17.950, most of them dressed “Gold Rush” style for the big game. And when the final horn sounded on a Mark Turgeon defensive masterpiece, that’s exactly what happened – a gold rush onto the floor.
Turgeon’s Terps (23-5, 11-4) are now 9-0 in games decided by six points or less this magical season and none were bigger than this one. Maryland knocked off a Wisconsin (25-3, 13-2) team that was a win away from clinching the Big Ten Conference title, hadn’t lost in 10 games, had won 22 games this season by double-digits, and was off to the best start in Wisconsin history.
The Badgers ran up against a determined Maryland squad. For the Terrapins, this one was for all the cheese, particularly for the naysayers who point to all those close victories as a negative.
“I think we’re a great basketball team even though we haven’t blown out a lot of teams,” said Melo Trimble, who took over in the last minute. Again.
“We expected to win,” added Dez Wells, who carried the battle to the Badgers all night with 26 points, his highest scoring effort since coming back from the broken wrist 17 games ago. “We had a great confidence about ourselves today and we expected to win.”
Maryland trailed for less than four minutes (all in the first half) and held the Badgers to their lowest field goal percentage (38.5, 20-of-52) in the last 19 games. According to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced efficiency rankings, Wisconsin was the most efficient offense in the country, averaging 125 points per 100 possessions. Their 53 points scored was a season-low.
“That’s the best game we’ve played defensively in a while,” said Turgeon, who has seen his team win four games in a row by a total of 15 points.
The Terrapins led by 11 on a couple of occasions but Wisconsin is too big, too strong and too good at what they do to get blown out. Maryland battled the bigger Badgers to a 31-31 stalemate on the glass and got a lift from some surprisingly solid post defense from senior Evan Smotrcyz and freshman Michal Cekovsky, which was not nearly as unlikely as some might think.
“Ceko has really been practicing well the past three or four weeks,” said Turgeon. “I knew this night (four points, six rebounds in 24 minutes) was coming. I didn’t tell him that because I knew he would be worried about it. We had a team meeting the other day and I said, ‘Who is the most improved player on our team the last two weeks,’ and they all said Ceko.”
Damonte Dodd had four fouls in seven minutes against All-Everything Frank Kaminsky so Cekovsky’s contributions were immeasurable. Late, when Ceko couldn’t continue because he wasn’t used to so many minutes, Smotrycz stepped in, got five rebounds and a couple of key steals, though he didn’t score.
Still, the game still came down to Wells and Trimble, who have scored 80 points apiece in the last four games. They combined for 42 of Maryland’s 59 points this night, Wells carrying the load and handing off to the freshman late when the Badgers were determined to keep the ball out of his hands.
The Terrapins had a three-point lead as the clock ticked below 40 seconds, the ball right where all Maryland partisans wanted it – in Trimble’s hands. The fearless freshman made another foray to the basket, beating Bronson Koenig off the dribble and scoring at 33.3 seconds.
At the other end, All-American Kaminsky missed in close and the ball bounded out to Sam Dekker who saw his 3-pointer go in-and-out. Trimble ended up with the ball and his two free throws at 15.8 seconds made it 59-52. Trimble would miss a front end at 5.9 seconds but six of his eight second half points came in the last 2:39, further solidifying his bonafides in the clutch.
“I’ve got really good players,” said Turgeon of the Terrapins’ formula. “I don’t know how many more times I can brag about Melo. He does what he does and has a lot of confidence. I thought he did a good job of getting to the rim and taking jump shots.”
The scored was tied when Wells hit two free throws at 5:50, and then two more at 5:30 to put Maryland up 51-47. Kaminsky, on his way to 18 points and eight rebounds, hit one of two freebies and then Wells went baseline and got a sensational dunk for a 53-48 lead at 4:03.
“I knew if I got a step on (Dekker) I was going to try to dunk it,” said Wells. “It kind of opened up for me. He tried to take a charge but that was his problem. I just wanted to finish the play.”
Two Nigel Hayes free throws made it a three-point game again but then Trimble, who had been contained much of the second half, made his presence felt. On a drive to the hoop, Trimble put his body into Wisconsin’s 7-foot Kaminsky, created some space and spun a lay-up off the glass for a 55-50 lead at 2:39.
Maryland and Wisconsin both came up empty in a couple of possessions before Kaminsky hit a short baseline shot at 1:04 to make it 55-52, and set the stage for more Melo moments in the last minute.
“We didn’t do a good job (stopping guard penetration),” said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. “Sometimes it just comes down to a guy being quicker or better. Wells and Trimble are better off the bounce and we were trying to take that away.”
Maryland’s 11-point lead had dwindled to two when Jake Layman joined the proceedings, getting a dunk off a feed from Wells on the break and then drawing the first foul on the Badgers in the second half at 12:34 on a strong defensive box-out. That possession resulted in a Layman drive for a 41-35 lead at 12:12, and the crowd was back in the game. Layman finished with six points, three rebounds and two blocks.
But Dekker, who seemed to have a big bucket answer all night, hit a 3-pointer to pull Wisconsin back within three. Dekker hit 7-of-14 shots and had 14 points and nine rebounds, going toe-to-toe with Wells all night.
After a Wells jumper in the paint, it was Dekker nailing another 3-pointer. Wells scored again but this time Hayes hit a 3-pointer to make it 45-44 at 8:05.
Cekovsky got an offensive rebound and fed Jared Nickens, who hit a baseline jumper. This time, it was Bronson Koenig who drilled a three to tie the game 47-47, at 6:36.
“We’ve been in so many close games we just keep doing what we do,” said Turgeon. “Our guys were so determined tonight, starting with Dez Wells, just really determined. And for Evan to do what he did defensively against arguably the best player in the country, was really terrific.”
Wisconsin turned some things around to start the second half. Instead of settling for 3-pointers, there was a concerted effort to go inside. Kaminsky picked up fouls on Dodd and Cekovsky in the first 12 seconds then Hayes got a stickback. When Kaminsky, who had just six points in the first half, scored inside at 18:44, the Badgers had cut the Maryland lead to 31-24.
Trimble hit a jumper but the Badgers got another layup from Kaminsky. Cekovsky tipped in a Layman missed scoop but Kaminsky hit a short turnaround to start a 7-0 spree. Josh Gasser nailed a corner 3-pointer and when Dekker hit a drive at 14:26. Wisconsin trailed just 35-33.
Wells stuck back his own miss but Kaminsky scored inside again, and it was 37-35 at 13:37, and the Terrapins were in another Big Ten knock-down, drag-out.
“Today was big because (people say), ‘Well, how good are these guys?,’” said Turgeon. “Well, we are what we are. We figure out a way to win. We compete when we have to, and I’ll take close wins as long as we keep winning. We’re becoming really gritty and tough and understand a lot of situations. We’re going to be really prepared for whatever lies ahead because of everything we’ve been through.”
Wells hit 9-of-17 shots, had a team-high seven rebounds and four assists. Trimble was 7-of-14 and had four rebounds. The Terrapins shot 48 percent (24-of-48), and committed just six turnovers.
Maryland led 31-20 at the end of a first half dominated by sticky Terrapin defense. The Terps held Wisconsin to 29.6 percent shooting (8-for-27), and used a big run midway through the half to open up a double-digit lead.
Maryland, meanwhile, shot 70 percent through the first part of the half, and then settled for 13-of-24 (54.2 percent) at the break behind Wells (14 points) and Trimble (8).
Leading 11-10 at 13:27 after Wisconsin’s Hayes got a three-point play, the Terrapins put together one of their best stretches of the season, going on a 12-2 spree over the next five minutes. Nickens started the run, nailing a 3-pointer off a set piece out of a timeout. Then Wells fed Cekovsky for a two-hand dunk around Kaminsky to turn up the volume in Xfinity. Wells scored on a spin move the next time down and it was 18-10, before Wisconsin finally answered.
Dekker hit a one-hand spin move of his own but Wells nailed a perimeter jumper and then got a lay-up and three-point play in transition to make it 23-12 at 8:24.
Cekovsky gave the Terps a lift during that stretch, particularly after Dodd picked up two early fouls. The Badgers’ decision to shoot a lot of 3-pointers (they were 1-of-11 in the first half) also contributed to the hole they dug for themselves.
“The coaches believe in me and I keep working hard every practice,” said Cekovsky of his boost for the cause. “It’s tough because of my school schedule and everything but I’m trying hard, trying to do my best. It’s a process and everything is hard for me, but I think it’s coming step by step.”
Turgeon thinks Cekovsky’s improvement could be a factor for the Terps down the stretch. This team hasn’t found a ceiling yet.
After a Kaminsky dunk, Trimble scored on a drive – he and Wells had 22 of Maryland’s 31 first half points . Ryan called timeout and Dekker hit a tough fadeaway jumper but the Badgers wouldn’t get closer than seven before the halftime horn. Dekker scored in transition and then Duje Dukan got a second chance hoop –Wisconsin’s only such basket of the half -- at 3:21 to make it 27-20.
The Terrapin defense didn’t allow any more scores, though, and Wells added two free throws at 1:50, and then a picture-perfect inbound feed to Trimble for a lay-up just before the half (0.4 seconds) to make it 31-20, equaling Maryland’s largest lead.
Maryland even had a 16-14 edge in points in the paint against the bigger Badgers in the first half, and finished with a 32-26 advantage there.
Turgeon thought a solid start was a key. “If you watch most of their games they get out 10-4, 12-2, because they’re so good defensively and they’re so hard to guard. I thought it was the energy in the crowd. The first timeout it was 7-6, them, and I said, ‘We’re in great shape.’ We just kind of built on it.
Maryland closes out the home schedule Feb. 28, hosting Michigan at noon on Senior Day. Maryland is 17-1 in Xfinity this season and undefeated in conference play.
“I challenged the seniors after the Nebraska game,” said Turgeon. “I said they have to be better. They have to be better in practice. They have to be better leaders. They have to do everything better and they did it. We had a great week of practice. We got a lot better in practice and it will show as the season goes on.”
Wells, Trimble Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badgers
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