Terps grab crucial road win at Wake Forest

Terps grab crucial road win at Wake Forest
March 2, 2013, 11:00 pm
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Everything is different after a win.

The subs on the bus from the arena taste like filet mignon.

Hour long plus delay for the charter flight? No problem.

The jokes are funnier, the laughs heartier, the flight attendants more attractive and flight home feels like a puddle-jump.

That pretty much sums up the Maryland Terrapins afternoon after beating Wake Forest 67-57 on the road. It marked just the third road win for the Terps this season and came at a critical juncture in their season. It resulted in Maryland’s (used to be important) 20th win on the year and kept their flagging hopes for an NCAA tournament berth alive for another day. 

The win also improved their record to 8-8 in league play and made a sixth seed in the ACC tournament increasingly likely. 

On to the game…

This was not a pretty affair. The Terps had 8 turnovers in the first ten minutes and battled a sold-out Joel Coliseum crowd along with a Demon Deacon team whose last home performance was a remarkable 80-65 win over a very good Miami team. Maryland had their usual drought in the middle of the half but weathered the storm with stout defense and solid rebounding. When senior Logan Aaronhalt nailed two long threes in the last five minutes of the half, the Terps found themselves up 30-24 at the break in spite of turnover issues and inconsistent play.

As huge as the Aaronhalt threes were, the story of the first half ultimately became the story of the game. Maryland sophomore wing Dez Wells was the best player on the floor by a mile and a half. He had 11 of Maryland’s 30 first half points on five of six shooting and was unstoppable attacking the basket. Only some nominal foul trouble slowed him in either half. He would finish the game with 23 points on 11 of 12 shooting. Access to a shot chart would probably show that one or two of those shots came outside of five feet.

Another story line was much more subtle but no less remarkable.

Junior point guard Pe’Shon Howard had been suspended twice during the season and, along the way, had become a whipping boy for many a Maryland message board poster. He played eight minutes in the loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday and, to be honest, they were pretty awful.

In the days in between the two games, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon pledged to start his five best defenders in the Wake game. Regardless of the ups and downs of the season, Maryland players know Turgeon to be incredibly blunt and brutally honest. If he said he would dedicate the Wake game to a renewed defensive commitment, he meant it. 

And Howard knew it.

Given the opportunity, his tenacity on defense won him the role as the starting point guard and he proved to be a critical cog in an important road win. He logged thirty minutes and his eight points and four rebounds did not do justice to his role in the game. Defensively he forced Wake guard CJ Harris to work for every one of his 19 points. To get to those 19 Harris took 16 field goal attempts and had to feel like he was wearing a Pe’Shon t-shirt after the game.

Turgeon was both ecstatic and relieved after the win. His team appeared to have the talent advantage over the Deac’s but that edge had not served the team in previous road contests. He was pleased with his team’s poise down the stretch and its resilience in the second half in the face of significant foul trouble.

He praised his team’s dominant rebounding effort in the last five minutes and the play of his bench after halftime. He also had the obligatory kind words about Wake’s effort and, specifically, the play of Harris on his senior night (OK, afternoon). True to form, he decried the turnovers totals that continue to plague the team but this was a different Mark Turgeon.

This one wore a smile.

Everything is different after a win.