COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Rasheed Sulaimon calls them “winning plays” – the key moments late in the game when great teams find a way to decide the contest.
The No. 4 Terrapins made those plays down the stretch to best another quality Big Ten foe, 18th-ranked Purdue, 72-61 at Xfinity Center Saturday, for their 26th consecutive home victory. “That’s what we talk about in all those huddles – getting the big stop, making the best play, making a winning play,” said Suliamon, who poured in a game high 21 points to go with a career high 10 rebounds. “I think we made every winning play tonight. “
They certainly did in the final six minutes after coach Mark Turgeon simplified things and just let his Terrapins do what they do. On a day when the shots weren’t falling, Maryland (21-3, 9-2) cranked it up another notch defensively.
“We just ramped it up on defense,” said Robert Carter, Jr., who added 19 points, shot 7-of-10 from the field and left the Boilermakers scratching their heads how to stop the Big Ten’s most versatile threat. “We knew that we needed to get stops to close out the game.”
So with all those big bodies banging down low, it was quick feet and hands that maybe made the difference. Purdue (19-5, 7-4) has a couple of 7-footers, then a couple of more guys nearly as big. The big Boilermakers pounded out a 36-32 edge in points in the paint and the rebounds were even, at 37 apiece.
But a possession-by-possession game turned into a runaway when Sulaimon took a rebound away from 7-footer A.J. Hammons. Then Diamond Stone got his mitt on an entry pass to force a turnover, and then Carter simply stole a pass down low with about a minute to play.
It’s the kind of play that makes even a tired Mark Turgeon giddy. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I have had really good defensive teams, but right now we’re playing at a level that I don’t know if I have seen as a head coach,” said the coach. “Diamond Stone, this was by far his best game defensively. It was great. And Robert Carter has really gotten better in the last month.”
Carter, after a frustrating stretch of foul trouble (18 whistles in the last four games), stayed on the floor and made life miserable for any big Boilermaker trying to cover him. He hit 4-of-6 3-pointers including a colossally huge one with 5:37 to play that cut into a 4-point Purdue lead and helped the Terrapins close with a devastating 25-10 kick to the delight of the 17,950 on hand.
Carter had seven rebounds to help battle to that draw on the boards, and the Terrapins offset their 40.7 percent (22-of-54) shooting (their third straight game under 45 percent) with a season low eight turnovers and a 24-for-27 day at the free throw line.
Turgeon was happy to close the book on a “grind” of four games, all wins, in 10 days – the big home win over Iowa, gritty slugfests at Ohio State and Nebraska and now this one over Purdue. Maryland now has two games this coming week, both at home, and then five days off before another road game (at Minnesota).
“We’re a tired basketball team,” admitted Turgeon. “There’s no way we win this basketball game without our fans. They were great.”
The Terrapins trailed by three at the half but regained the lead 2:55 into the second half when Sulaimon scooped up a loose ball and went coast to coast to score in traffic and make it 33-32. Maryland forced the Boilermakers into seven misses in their first nine second-half shots to make a statement.
Turgeon, after trying a huge lineup earlier –Damonte Dodd and Stone up front, Carter at small forward and jared Nickens at shooting guard – turned to a smaller array with Carter at center and Layman at power forward.
Trading baskets because Carter physically couldn’t handle massive, 7-2 Isaac Haas when the Boilermakers reversed the ball and pinned him, Maryland did manage a three-point lead after Carter threw down a big dunk at 13:57. Then Suliamon scored on a long baseball pass from Carter 49 seconds later to make it 39-36.
But Purdue regained the lead at 9:43 on back-to-back baskets from Hammons, who had just reentered the game after a long time on the bench with three fouls. He finished with a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds. Vince Edwards got a layup to make it 46-43 at 9:13.
Stone, who had 12 points and six rebounds, hit two free throws and then got a dunk from Melo Trimble at 7:26 for Maryland to go back in front 47-46. Rapheal Davis scored in transition and was fouled, hitting Purdue’s first free throw of the game at 6:42 of the second half to put the Boilermakers ahead 49-47. After a Melo miss, 6-9 Caleb Swanigan scored inside for a four-point lead.
But Trimble found Carter in the corner and the big junior nailed a key three. Let him explain. “Melo and I were in a pick and roll, which is always tough to guard with somebody big who can make shots and a guard that can get downhill with the best of them. They chose their poison. Both defenders stayed with Melo and left me open, and I knocked it down.”
Sulaimon then tipped away that sure Purdue offensive rebound and ended up with a fastbreak score to make it 52-51, Maryland at 4:59. The Boilermakers wouldn’t lead again.
Trimble scored on a drive after Stone deflected a low-post entry pass, and suddenly Maryland was up 56-51. The Terrapins were on a 15-2 run that decided matters. After Hammons got a dunk to make it a three-point game again, Maryland rattled off the next seven points, including a three-point play by Sulaimon. It was 63-53 at 1:03 when Trimble began a parade to the free throw line with two makes.
“We really executed, we spread the floor and got to the foul line,” said Turgeon. “We shot lay-ups and free throws at the end. It’s a pretty good recipe for success. We talked about spacing the floor. Our guys figured it out. They weren’t making jump shots and Melo didn’t get the middle range game going today, which he usually does. We figured out how to get to the free throw line.”
The defense ruled the day – Purdue shot 38.9 percent in the second half, hit just 3-of-25 3-pointers in the game and got to the free throw line just five times (hitting two) – but Maryland was deadly on offense when it had to be. The Terrapins scored on their last 10 possessions.
“We thought we had some great shots in the first half but sometimes you miss some,” said Sulaimon. “In the second half we wanted to get easy buckets, and we thought we could do that first of all by getting defensive stops and scoring in transition. Just being aggressive and attacking off the dribble, getting to the foul line and other things.”
Sulaimon and Carter helped the team overcome uncharacteristic offensive days from Trimble and Layman. Layman had just four points, all at the free throw line, and was 0-for-3 from the field. He was part of that staunch defense, though, and had five rebounds.
Trimble was 2-of-12 from the field, one of his worst shooting games this year. But he had seven assists, often breaking down the defense on the drive and he was his take-it-the-bank, clutch 10-of-11 at the free throw line, finishing with 14 points.
Turgeon said he simplified the offense the last six minutes – more give-and-go and pick-and-roll – a testament to his trust in his team. “I believe in our guys. Rob is an old soul. Jake has been around. Sheed has been around, played in big games. Melo plays like he is 30. That’s not to make fun of him, but he’s seasoned. Those four guys just kind of keep us even-keeled. We believe in each other. We flat out believe we are going to win.”
They needed that belief. Purdue came on in the second half of the first half to take a 30-27 lead to the locker room at the intermission. Hammons led the Boilermakers with 10 points.
Carter had 11 for Maryland, including four 3-pointers. He helped the Terrapins jet out to a 10-4 advantage early, hitting two threes.
“Their whole concern was to stop Melo from getting in the paint, which they did a nice job for the most part,” said Turgeon. “But Rob was able to make those. He’s one of our better shooters. I liked his decision-making the second half.”
Maryland held Purdue scoreless over a stretch of three minutes and 59 seconds, running off eight straight points to lead 18-10 at 11:02 when Stone scored on a nifty spin move on the baseline. Sulaimon started the spree with a layup off a bounce pass from Carter.
But then the Terrapins, who had hit five of their first eight shots, went cold. In fact, Maryland didn’t score for five minutes and 37 seconds as Purdue ran off 10 straight points. When Swanigan scored inside, Purdue led 20-18, the Boilermakers’ first lead since the game’s opening basket.
Stone finally ended the drought with a dunk on a Trimble pass but Purdue wouldn’t relinquish the first half advantage. Carter’s 3-pointer at 2:46 brought Maryland within 26-25, but Swanigan answered with a short jumper.
Carter wove through the defense for a dunk but Swanigan hit another short jumper at 24 seconds. Trimble missed a 3-pointer just before the half, Maryland finishing at 36.7 percent from the floor in the half. Over one stretch, the Terrapins hit on just two of 13 shots before the offense came back to life late.
A particular area of concern was Purdue’s 18-2 advantage in bench scoring, Nickens getting Maryland’s only bucket off the bench. Turgeon was looking forward ot the lighter load of games the coming week to fine tune the offense.
The three-game homestand continues Tuesday with Maryland’s final nonconference game, a 6:00 tipoff with Bowie State. The Terrapins host Wisconsin, Saturday, Feb. 13.