Maryland overcame a sloppy first half performance with a dominating second half display.
Maryland's still struggling to put together a compelling 40 minutes of basketball. But man, when they're on, they're a sight to behold: the Terrapins took a two-point halftime lead over Northwestern and ballooned it out to 20, wreaking havoc on a Wildcats team that was more or less helpless in opposition. Maryland was bigger, faster, stronger, and more athletic, and they displayed complete dominance in every phase of the game over the final twenty minutes.
They turned the ball over only once and shot 20-30 from the field in the second half. They were a step ahead of everything Northwestern tried to do to stymie them, switching from a dominating Alex Len to a dominating Dez Wells to a dominating Logan Aronhalt - yes, Logan Aronhalt. Maryland outrebounded the Wildcats by 27, limiting Northwestern to, incredulously, only 15 rebounds all game. (Or 19, depending on which box score you look at.) Everything the Terrapins wanted to do in the second half, they did. It was a shockingly impressive bout of basketball, and it gave Maryland an easy 77-57 win on the road over their future conference opponents.
The initial instinct may be to downplay the performance - it was, after all, only over Northwestern, a program which has famously never made the NCAA Tournament and had a ridiculously wide talent gap compared to Maryland. But don't forget that the Wildcats were favored - by five, at that - heading into the game and expected to be a middle-of-the-road B1G team; they may not be very impressive, but they're not the type of team that can be beaten by 20 and then simply ignored. That was a heck of a statement performance, and it was credible.
We knew Maryland was deep. And talented. And athletic. But up 'til now they'd never really put it together for any real period of time, let alone an entire half. What we saw tonight was this team clicking on all cylinders: a confident and smart Pe'Shon Howard running the show and looking like an elite distributor, a zone-buster in Logan Aronhalt knocking down shots, a veteran leader in Dez Wells - who had a career-high 21 points - accounting for perimeter offense, and a superstar in the middle in Alex Len - 13 points and 13 boards - tying it all together.
And that's to say nothing of Nick Faust, Shaquille Cleare, Charles Mitchell, or Seth Allen. Or James Padgett. Or Jake Layman. All of whom can come in and out with big performances of their own, as we've seen all year.
When Maryland plays like that, it's tough to imagine very many teams they couldn't worry.
The problem is putting it together and keeping it together. This was the longest stretch we've seen from this team playing like that, but it's been weeks in the making. And the first half performance was everything the second half performance wasn't: lackadaisical, unfocused, sloppy. Oh, so, so sloppy. When Maryland's turning it over at the rate they did in the first half, they can have all the athleticism and depth in the world and it won't matter. They simply need to execute better than they have at times this season, and do it consistently.
Maryland's young, so to some extent you expect that. You'd also expect it to improve as the season goes on. If they can put together an entire game like that second half, they'll challenge for the ACC title. Otherwise, this is still a tournament-caliber team, but probably not much more. Either way, there's a lot to look forward to.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten cleaned up in the Challenge, with Indiana embarrassing UNC and Minnesota taking Florida State to the woodshed in Tallahassee. Wake Forest lost to Nebraska. Michigan beat N.C. State.
Don't worry, ACC. We held it down for you guys.