For most of the past three weeks the Maryland Terrapins have cruised through their non-conference schedule without being seriously challenged. Call it what you will – the Parade of Cupcakes or the MEAC torture tour come to mind - but the games have not been close as the Terps steamrolled their way to nine consecutive wins after an opening season loss to defending National Champs Kentucky.
It all changed tonight.
Against a road-tested and veteran Stony Brook Seawolves team the Terps played their best opening half of the season and led 45-32 at the break. At half, Maryland had shot a sizzling 64% (28-53) from the field that included 7-12 from the three point line (58%).
During the course of a long season, one of the things you learn is that teams generally find their level. In this case, by virtue of their size and skill, the Terps could probably be expected to shoot around 50% from the field and 35% from the three point line for the game.
Unfortunately the Terps indeed found their level after intermission.
A quick 11-4 Maryland run made the game 56-36 barely three minutes into the second stanza and forced an early Stony Brook timeout.
After scoring 56 points in the first 23 minutes the Terps managed just 20 over the last 17 minutes.
Over the next four minutes after that early second half timeout the Seawolves went on an 11-0 run to pull within 56-47 and the game got interesting. From that point the Terps maintained a comfortable cushion of 8-12 points for about the next ten minutes and then things got wacky.
A contested three pointer by Anthony Jackson with 2:12 remaining cut the Maryland lead to 69-64 and a layup barely a minute later by forward Tommy Brenton (ridiculous stat line of 9 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists and 0 turnovers) made it 69-66 Terps and Stony Brook suddenly found itself in a position to steal a win on the road against a BCS school.
I’m always a little leery anointing one particular play as the “play of the game.” When you think about it, there are, literally, hundreds of little plays that make up one game and it’s difficult to say if and when any one of those is bigger than the other.
That said, with the home team reeling at 69-66 and Stony Brook thinking upset, every one of the 10,000 plus in attendance saw the play of the game.
Maryland sophomore center Alex Len (19 points, 9 rebounds) went to the foul line to shoot two shots with just 54 seconds to play. He missed both attempts but his teammate Dez Wells didn’t quit on the play and wrestled the miss on the second shot away from a Seawolf player. The ensuing loose ball found its way to a hustling Len who slammed it home for a 71-66 lead.
That bucket proved critical when Jackson hit another three point bomb 20 seconds later to cut the lead to two. With the shot clock off Stony Brook was forced to foul and Maryland guards Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust and Wells closed the door on any upset bid by going five for six from the free throw line in the last half minute of play.
The Terps would end up with a 76-69 win, their tenth consecutive victory.
Ultimately Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon got exactly what he wanted. His team got a big-time reality check at the hands of a solid team that will probably find itself in NCAA tournament at the end of the season. Stony Brook had a five point second half lead on UConn on the road in Storrs before falling earlier this year. They also boasted an impressive win against 9-2 Canisius. Think that’s not a big deal? That’s the same Canisius team that won by double digits on the road against a good Temple team just two nights ago.
When the game unfolded the way it did, it also allowed Turgeon to work on situations that are hard to approximate in practice. He continually worked on the right combinations on both ends of the floor down the stretch and seemed completely comfortable with the opportunity he ended up having.
For the game Turgeon’s Terps shot 53% from the field and committed just 11 turnovers – a nice departure from their most recent outings. They weathered an impressive comeback by a good team and won a game that could have gone either way in the waning minutes.
All is good for Maryland at 10-1 and the Christmas break upon them. The Terps return to action against Delaware State on December 29th.