For the most part the game tonight between the Maryland Terrapins and Virginia Tech Hokies was as ugly as a college basketball game could get. It featured a lot of missed shots and turnovers on both sides and some inexplicable decision making by both teams down the stretch. It also featured a number of Maryland missed free throws that kept the game in doubt until the last thirty seconds.
Yet, in spite of all of that ugliness, the end result was a great big beautiful 60-55 road win for the Terps on a night when they needed it most.
The win improved the Terps to 17-6 overall and evened their conference mark to 5-5.
Given a less than impressive non-conference resume and a middling conference record, the Terps enter the February stretch run with some games they simply have to win. Virginia Tech entered the game having lost four consecutive ACC games but they had played well in stretches of each game. Given the direction of the Hokies’ season this is would be a good time for Maryland’s first road win since late November. Conversely, a loss on the road at Blacksburg would probably have proved to be disastrous for the Maryland profile and, more importantly, their all-important computer ranking.
When Maryland opened the game with a 21-10 run over the first ten minutes of the game it seemed a natural extension of their most recent efforts where they had executed well offensively and shot a high percentage as a result. They hit three of their first four three point attempts and freshmen Jake Layman and Seth Allen torched the Tech zone repeatedly from the perimeter, combining for 14 of those 21 points.
If it was Dr. Jekyll running the Maryland offense the first ten minutes then Mr. Hyde took over the next ten.
After an Allen three put the lead at 21-10 at the 10:00 mark the Terps went over six minutes without a field goal. The only tally during that mark was a free throw by Layman. That one field goal came on a layup by senior forward James Padgett at the 3:14 mark and Maryland never scored again before the break.
The fact of the matter was that Tech wasn’t a whole lot better in those last ten minutes. Eventually they seized the lead going into the break at halftime, up 27-24, but they shot just 11-34 (32%) for the half. Hokie guard Erick Green was the best player on the court by a mile the entire game and his first half effort of 16 points paced his team. If his teammates played anywhere close to the level of this guy then the Terps would have found themselves in major trouble in this game.
In the locker room at halftime, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon didn’t beat around the bush. He specifically addressed the need to win this game and was not happy with his team’s attitude or effort.
He simply told his team (no doubt with a little volume) that “pouters stay home and men play in the NCAA tournament” and asked them collectively which ones they thought they were.
Whether it was the volume or the message his team responded quickly at the start of the second half. They scored seven unanswered points in the first 90 seconds to force a Tech timeout and found themselves with a 35-30 lead at the first media timeout. Eventually the lead grew to nine at 46-37 with just under 11 minutes remaining and the Terps seemed to be on their way again.
Unfortunately, just as things had gone south for them midway through the first half, the Terps hit a similar stretch at the halfway through the second half. Green scored five points in a 7-0 Hokie run to trim the lead to just two points over the next two minutes.
For anyone who watched the last five minutes of Maryland’s heartbreaking loss last week at Florida State it was apparent that- between the missed free throws and inability to make enough plays to win- the Terps had let a great opportunity slip through their fingertips.
This game tonight appeared to be headed in a similar direction. At one point Maryland was a horrid 4-15 from the foul line and, as a result could never pad their lead. Still, critical three pointers by Dez Wells and Logan Aaronhalt in the last seven minutes allowed Maryland to maintain a small lead and then the Terps used an unlikely ally to seal the game. With 58 seconds remaining and lead shaved to a single point, Len swished two free throws and Nick Faust added two more 30 seconds later.
The Terps got another defensive stop on the ensuing possession but an errant Wells pass led to a turnover and a pair of Green free throws with 9 seconds remaining and, all of a sudden, it was a one possession game at 58-55. Tech fouled freshman Allen on the next inbound pass. With just 8 seconds remaining Allen completely bricked the first free throw but somehow, someway it went in and made the outcome academic.
While it wasn’t pretty at all, the end result was a gritty, important road win for a team that needed one badly. To this point, their results haven’t matched their promise but they are exceptionally young and play that way in parts of every game.
A road win always seem to count more psychologically to a team. A road win in February can pay immeasurable dividends for a young team.
They will need all of those and more. Up next a red-hot Virginia team visits the Terps on Sunday.