Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
Building off their recent surge in the ACC Tournament, Maryland players and head coach Mark Turgeon react to their win over Niagara in the opening round of the NIT.
Over the last few weeks, especially during the recent ACC Tournament, it has become clear that Maryland has finally turned the proverbial corner, playing better both offensively, defensively and seeming to finally find their identity. One of the main factors contributing to that growing has been improved point guard play, led by junior Pe'Shon Howard, who is arguably playing his best basketball of the season.
"Pe'Shon never gets-unless it's me-credit for how well he guards. He did a great job again tonight. [Antoine] Mason is hard to guard. He shot a lot of free throws but they weren't all on Pe'Shon. Tonight six assists and one turnover, he ran the team" Turgeon said. Howard also had four points, four rebounds and a steal in tonight's game.
"He is another reason we are starting to play" Turgeon said. "We have a lot of guys growing up finally. They are growing up and realize how hard you have to work. They have had some success and they feel good about it. Has our program turned a corner? Yeah, I think it has turned the corner, what level I don't know. We are mentally and physically tougher and a better road team. I know those weren't true road games down in North Carolina, but we played three North Carolina schools. Guys have really toughened up and I have been waiting on that."
After a sluggish first half which found them down by as many as six, the Terps entered halftime tied with Niagara at 35.
"I thought we had these guys back on their heels a little bit" Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich said. "For me, without thinking too hard about it, we had a chance in the first half. We were up six; we missed a layup on one [possession], and then real quick it was: dunk, layup, dunk, tie game. That was just what they needed to remind them how good they are and that they beat Duke twice."
Mihalich, who was the MAAC coach of the year, was a funny guy, and continued by saying "I don't know if we're in a sword fight with a butter knife, but they've got McDonald's All-Americans, we've got kids who eat at McDonalds."
While Maryland doesn't actually have McDonald's All-Americans on the roster, everyone in the room got his point and erupted into laughter.
Maryland really struggled with Niagara's 2-3 zone in the first half, preventing them from getting the ball inside to their front court players, all of which have a huge size advantage over the Purple Eagles.
"It took as a little while to figure it out" sophomore Nick Fast said about the 2-3 zone. "Their defense has a whole lot of interchanging [aspects] and things like that. So once we got the hang of it we were able to break it down easily." When asked if they'd seen a defense like that in ACC play, Faust talked about how it had been months since they saw a defense similar to what Niagara ran tonight against them. "No, we haven't seen that since early in the year. Real early, like the first ten games."
Maryland was finally able to break the zone and they did it by getting out and running and forcing turnovers with increased full court pressure. It allowed the Terps to go on an 18-3 run that, for the most part, put the game away.
"I think we were kind of walking through the motions in the first half. But give them credit. They were making some shots and they were playing with energy and they were playing loose" Turgeon said. "They're a good team, guys. They won their league. There's a reason they're in this tournament. I just think that we kind of figured out offensively how to play a little bit better, our defense got better, we got out on the break and ran and I think we wore them down. They don't have the depth that we have and our depth was really good tonight."
"I think the difference in the second half was just that we came out with a lot more energy" freshman Seth Allen said following the game. Allen was tied with a team-high 15 points and also grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists, had two steals and didn't turn the ball over.
But the best overall game for Maryland probably came from sophomore Nick Faust, who continued to elevate his game and recorded a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. "I think things are just going well for me right now. I'm making shots and just doing a lot of the little things" Faust said.
"I think it started at Wake Forest and has continued on at Virginia, through the ACC Tournament and tonight" head coach Mark Turgeon said about Faust's play. "There is a reason we are playing better. We are a better basketball team than we were a month ago. A lot of it has to do with Nick and Dez playing the way they have been playing."
Five Maryland players finished in double digits, with Allen, Faust and senior Logan Aronhalt all leading the team in scoring with 15 points. Dez Wells continued his good play and scored 12 points, while freshman Charles Mitchell had 10, to go along with four rebounds.
One player who didn't log any minutes tonight was senior forward James Padgett. When asked about his lack of playing time, Mark Turgeon said that he asked Padgett if he wanted to go in with about ten minutes left, but he declined, instead letting some of the other players have the opportunity to play in and enjoy a postseason game.
Maryland will face
the winner of the Denver (3) and Ohio(6) game Denver on Thursday in College Park, who defeated the Ohio Bobcats 61-57. The time of that game is 7:00 PM and will be on ESPNU.