USA TODAY Sports
Well that was fun, wasn’t it?
Comcast hasn’t been that electric since…maybe March 2010 against Duke? Last night might have even surpassed the Senior Night of one of the all time great Terps against Duke to essentially clinch a share of the ACC Championship. That’s how nuts Saturday was.
Alright, now that that’s off my chest, let’s break down our four takeaways from Satuday’s upset of that team from Durham.
1. Mark Turgeon has been criticized a lot this season, and rightly so in my opinion, but he gets major props for the game plan Saturday night.
The plan was simple. Defensively, they wanted to make Duke beat them from 2. Offensively, they wanted to attack Duke inside who has no serviceable big men except Mason Plumlee. (And frankly, some of us could probably have defended better than Mason Plumlee Saturday night).
The plan worked on both sides of the ball. Duke shot just 6-19 (31%) from behind the arc (compared to the 11-22 they shot during the first matchup), while on the offensive end, Maryland bullied Duke down low all night: out-rebounding them 38-17 and getting to the free throw line 34 times.
It seems like a simple game plan -- stop what they’re best at and attack them at their weakest point. But all too often those game plans don’t work out for varying reasons. A lot of the time opposing coaches figure out a way to hide their weaknesses or force you to play a specific way. (Coach K had no answers Saturday). Other times, the players just don’t execute (something that has been a problem this year).
The players certainly get a lot of credit for sticking with the game plan all night and executing. But Turgeon deserves some praise as well. He put his players in the best position to win Saturday night, and that’s what you want from your head coach.
2. People are going to talk about Seth Allen’s eight turnovers but he played his butt off in the biggest game of his young career.
The number of turnovers (8) on the surface is pretty jarring, but let’s get a couple things straight:
1. Several of them weren’t really his fault. One came when he lost his shoe (and then his balance). A second came when Chuck threw the ball at him at Nolan Ryan speed despite being two feet away from him. A third came on a miscommunication.
2. He did SO many things well that he gets a little slack on the turnovers. He ran the offense really efficiently: leading the charge for a group that scored 83 points and shot 60% despite 26 turnovers. He created for himself: blowing by Quinn Geographically-Confused Cook for several key baskets including the final drive that sent him to the line for the game’s winning points. He was a menace on defense: disrupting passing lanes and forcing Cook into 5 turnovers of his own.
But the thing that impressed me most about Seth Allen is the fact that he never hung his head when many in his position might have. Think about it. He’s a freshman, running the offense in the biggest game of the season, the biggest game of his life, and after a series of turnovers in that atmosphere, he still has the confidence to make several huge plays.
Here’s the sequence I’m talking about:
7:02 remaining: Seth Allen turns it over on two straight possessions. Comes back the very next play to draw foul on a jump shot. Hits both free throws. The next offensive possession he blows by Quinn Cook for a layup.
His total stats after the back-to-back turnovers? 9 points, zero missed shots, 1 huge steal, zero turnovers.
That’s how the freshman responded in the biggest game of his life.
Coming into this game, we knew he had all the skills: the quickness, ability to get to the rim, a serviceable three point shot. Saturday night we also learned he’s a pretty tough kid.
3. A motivated Alex Len is a scary thing. If he can channel that a couple more times this season, the Terps can make a run at this thing.
In many ways, Len is a microcosm for what this Terps team has been this season. He’s incredibly talented and has dominated in small spurts. He’s also had games where he looks unfocused and lost.
Saturday night we saw dominant Alex. And not coincidentally, it was a great night for the Terps.
Len’s numbers paint part of the picture: 19 points on 6-8 shooting, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 6-7 from the line.
What the numbers don’t illustrate is how great he was defensively. He (along with Shaquille Cleare) relegated an ACC Player of the Year candidate (the Herman Cain of ACC POY candidates by the way) into a spectator. The only difference is Plumlee had a better view of the game than we did. Plumlee couldn’t get around Len. He couldn’t go through Len. He got his shots blocked by Len. He had a grand total of zero points in the second half.
Len also did a great job disrupting Duke’s guards off of screen switches, all the while getting back in time to guard his man down low.
So what awoke the sleeping giant?
Again, credit Turgeon here. We’ve harped on him for not having this team focused. He pushed the right buttons with his best player going into this game and it paid off.
If the same Alex Len that showed up Saturday night, shows up the rest of the regular season, the Terps are going have a real shot at dancing.
Which brings me to point four...
4. Turgeon didn’t want to mention the four-letter acronym Saturday night. But we can here. The stage is now set for the Terps to crack the right side of the bubble, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
After I had a couple hours to digest the win, my mind went to this infamous movie clip. Last weekend, this team looked left for dead. A pretty mediocre Virginia group came into Comcast and thoroughly outplayed the Terps. But now, with a relatively weak remaining schedule and a marquee win, there’s hope.
Whether that hope materialized into an NCAA Tournament berth is really anybody’s guess at this point.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Maryland went into Boston College and laid an egg. Or I could see them pulling out a close one and continuing to build on the momentum of the Duke game. In many ways, Tuesday night’s game against Boston College is as big a test as the game against Duke was.
They showed they can hang with a top team for 40 minutes. Now, they need to show they have mental toughness to not let the euphoric victory turn into a hangover.
Six games remain. Four are on the road. None of the teams are ranked in the Top 25. The Terps likely need four or five wins to feel secure about their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. Will they do it? Who knows. But the opportunity is there.
If we’ve learned anything about this team it’s that we don’t know what we’re going to get night to night. And if that trend holds, the next month promises to be frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time.