Maryland basketball never makes it easy, but this time the heartache was worth it: the Terrapins nearly lost a 14-point second-half lead, but Terrell Stoglin scored 27 and Maryland grabbed their first road win of the season, defeating Clemson in Littlejohn Coliseum 64-62.
Like many of the Terps' contests this year, It was a pretty nervy affair when it didn't have to be. The first half was inartful and turnover-filled, but Maryland was able to take four-point lead into the break and build on it with a great start to the second half. They led by 14 with only 11 minutes to play, and things appeared very nearly in the bag. Maryland then went the next six minutes scoring only five points, allowing Clemson to bounce back with a 22-10 run, partially thanks to their trademark pressure defense. Maryland shot only 4-9 from the line over the final 4:02, endangering their shrinking lead.
The ending sequence was particularly strange: Clemson took the inbound from the baseline down two with 1.7 seconds left, and threw a wild pass down court. Sean Mosley caught it with his foot on the baseline, which gave Clemson another opportunity. Andre Young nearly made good use of the second chance, but his last-second heave drew iron and fell harmlessly from the rim.
This team has had trouble all year keeping its foot on the pedal, and slowdowns or mental lapses seem par for the course. Had they been able to power through that tonight and finish off the game without it turning into a nail-biter, we'd very likely be calling this the game in which Maryland turned that long-awaited corner. Instead, it's progress, but only of a sort. They're still as frustrating as ever, but those spots of potential keep shining brighter and brighter.
Make no mistake, the first 30 minutes or so were actually quite impressive. People will say Clemson isn't very good, but they've given every team in the ACC a run - including Duke, whom they lost to by only 6 - and Maryland very nearly blew them out of the building. Terrell Stoglin was on another level tonight and was a huge reason for Maryland's success, but the defense was quietly very good as well. These are things to build on.
Still, it's tough to see this bunch going too far until they tighten up they get steadier, and perhaps mentally tougher as well. That will become easier as more talent and depth gets into the program in the coming years, mind you, but there's been no real killer instinct this season. It's disappointing.
As far as individuals go, I'll start with Stoglin: he was simply outstanding. We often sort of gloss over Stogs because we've come to expect excellence, but tonight's showing was above and beyond his usual outing. He had 27 points but those 27 came on only 11 shots, which is a far cry from the 21 on 20 he had against UNC last Saturday. He was deadly efficient with the ball in his hands, and had his usual spattering of "Did that really just happen?" plays, including an absurd fast break in-and-out, finished over Devin Booker.
For a quick side note: Disregard his height. Disregard his defense. Disregard his mentality. Stoglin is easily the most purely skilled player Maryland's had in at least a decade - maybe ever. It pains me to use a Jay Williams phrase, but he's right: Stoglin dribbles with the ball on a string. His control is impeccable. His sense of space is extraordinary. And he's cannier than perhaps anyone I've seen play live. He has dozens of shortcomings, but for these reasons he's worth the price of admission every single night.
But he didn't just score tonight, for what it's worth - he pitched in four steals, which might be some of that effort Mark Turgeon has come to demand from him on the defensive end, and continued to look for others' shots when he doesn't have his. No, those aspects aren't great, but when the rest of his game is so fantastic, they're easy to overlook, especially when they're as adequate as they were tonight.
The other standout was, I suppose, Sean Mosley. He was basically invisible in the first half and had a boneheaded play at the end, but was on fire in the second and was a big reason Maryland was able to pull away. In the first half, Maryland was entirely reliant on Stoglin. In the second, Mosley got buckets when Stoglin couldn't, and the offense ran like butter. He had only one turnover and played strong defense all night, as we've come to expect from Sugar; this is Good Sean, the one with which Maryland can make noise in the back stretch of the ACC.
Ashton Pankey might've qualified here as well. He pulled up lame midway through the second, which was a shame to see because he played a quietly strong game, putting up 6 points and 9 boards. Hopefully he'll be okay; it'd be a shame to see him go down after putting in such a workmanlike performance.
The last guy I'll mention is Pe'Shon Howard. I love Pe' - I was Mr. MVPe' a year ago this time, remember - but I don't think anyone would say he didn't have a howler of a game tonight. 1-5 from the floor, missed two front ends on one-and-ones down the stretch, 3 turnovers, 2 assists, and one crucial foul on a late three-pointer. (Thankfully, Young missed two of three free throws.) He continues to be a good team defender but middling one-on-one on the perimeter, and wasn't at all the steadying force Maryland really needs at point guard. Too many ambitious passes, too many questionable decisions.
I feel for Howard, for two reasons. The first being that he played 19 minutes of the second half tonight - in the final eight or so, he was obviously drained. He probably could've sat another two or three minutes, letting Stoglin or Faust run things at the 1. More to the point, he seems bereft of confidence at the moment. He kicked the scorer's table (nearly earning a technical) after a turnover, and threw his hands up in bewilderment after Berend Weijs fumbled a pass. You have to wonder if he's inside his own head right now, because it certainly seems that way. He needs to slow down, relax, and let the game flow a little more.
I've always said this about Pe'Shon: if he was on a slightly better team, with some more skilled big men and a true point guard, where he could be the primary backup at either guard spot and be the true combo he is, everyone would love him. As it stands, he's being asked to do something I'm not sure he's capable of doing. Not his fault, but Turgeon needs to find a solution.
As a team, turnovers were the big culprit, but otherwise I don't have many qualms. Defense was pretty good aside from letting Milton Jennings get loose once or twice, and the offense clicked well when Stoglin was shooting. The real problems came from Clemson's press and the all-around sloppy first half, but we've come to expect some loose play from Maryland's half-court offense this season.
Have to be a bit discouraged at Maryland taking their foot off Clemson's throat and nearly allowing a comeback, but I'm also pretty well encouraged that they were in that position to begin with, and that they didn't lose it in the end. The Terrapins needed this one, and I'm glad to see them get it. They've been scrambling for a foothold, and a road ACC win just might be the one they need.
More forthcoming later. But I almost forgot to mention: Nick Faust can dunk. He'll posterize his fair share of hapless defenders in the next two years.