ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 08: Nick Faust #5 of the Maryland Terrapins dunks in the second half against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their first round game of 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Conferene Tournament at Philips Arena on March 8, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Terrell Stoglin scored 25 points, Nick Faust had a career-high 19, and Maryland played it's best game of the season, topping Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC Tournament, 82-60. The win, which breaks a three-game losing streak, was the Terrapins' largest of the year, and sends them to face top-seeded North Carolina in the second round of the tournament tomorrow at noon.
Sometimes everything just goes right for a team, and it certainly did for Maryland today. They've deserved one of these games all year, though, and it felt great to see it actually happen. Stoglin responded well to the perceived all-ACC first team snub, with perhaps the most well-rounded performance of his career: 25 points on 15 shots, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. But this was a team win for Maryland: the Terrapins shot 54% from the field, outrebounded Wake Forest by 15, and forced 8 second-half turnovers.
I have my doubts that Maryland could replicate something like this, especially not against the well-oiled machine that is North Carolina. But whereas you might've been a bit uneasy about Maryland's future this morning, it's pretty tough to be anything other than optimistic about this team and where they're headed.
A quick recap for the scores that didn't see the game: both teams traded blows and momentum in the opening minutes, with neither really taking control of the game. Maryland went on a 12-3 run late in the half, building an eight-point lead and seemingly taking control heading into the break. A C.J. Harris three-pointer in the closing seconds, though, cut the lead down to five at the half, 36-31.
The second half was obviously a very, very different story. Maryland came out of the break firing, starting off on an incredible 20-4 run fueled by great defense and efficient play from Stoglin. They led by as many as 28, their largest lead of the season in any game, and had the game more or less in hand by the halfway mark of the second half. A group of walk-ons played the final five minutes of the game, coming in when Maryland held a 80-52 lead. The gap predictably shrunk in the few minutes, but not by much, and Maryland still took home their most comfortable win of the year.
I hesitate to make any individual plaudits, because everyone played so well. Stoglin in particular was fantastic: aside from heat checkes early in the game, he was very efficient, played good defense, and most importantly made a concerted effort to get his teammates the ball. Once he settled down into that rhythm, he was deadly, hitting shots within the framework of the offense all second half. This was a deadly Stoglin, and one who showed just how good he can be with some more refinement.
Faust was almost as good, though a bit quieter. His jumper hasn't become any prettier but it's become much more effective, shooting 6-10 from the floor and hitting a three-pointer in the early minutes. He's still a monster off the dribble, though, and had several moments that left you a bit dumbfounded - in particular was a blind euro-step layup on the break over Carson Desrosiers, and I can guarantee you he couldn't see the rim on that shot. What's so impressive about Faust, though, is how he racks up points largely within the confines of the offense. He rarely goes one-on-one or jacks up bad shots (he still does, but less and less each game) but his point totals aren't falling. If he continues to improve over the offseason, he's going to be very, very tough to stop next year, especially if Stoglin sticks around.
Alex Len probably had the third-most notable game, with seven points, six boards, and three blocks. It wasn't a fantastic performance from Len, but he showed a bit more aggression and confidence than we've seen from him lately, delivering a couple giant slams. He still comes and goes, but he needed this game for his confidence.
I could keep on going, especially about walk-on Jonathan Thomas giving Maryland 10 quality minutes or Ashton Pankey showing some scrap that we haven't seen lately. But it would take too much time and is, in fact, a bit unnecessary. Put it this way: if you can think of someone on Maryland, it's a good bet they did really well.
So, what changed? Well, for one, Wake Forest is really not very good. They're the worst defense in the conference, which explains how Maryland played so well offensively, and have very little depth. But it's still largely the same team that Maryland beat by only 6 back early in the ACC year, and that was with Pe'Shon Howard. The Terrapins were also a much more focused team, and made a concentrated effort to play good team basketball that we often haven't seen this year. You have to wonder if Stoglin playing so well had a big impact on that. He's definitely Maryland's leader whether he wants to be or not, and making such a concerted effort to play like a true point may've rubbed off on the rest of the team.
Of course, things are going to get tougher tomorrow, as North Carolina is a much better team with a lot more interior depth. But Maryland should have more confidence than at any other point of the season after this one, and are playing great basketball. I'm not expecting a win, obviously, but a strong performance would be great to see going into next season.
More on UNC later. For now, enjoy a day full of basketball.