For Maryland, Thursday's game against the Denver Pioneers in the second round of the NIT tournament was their sixth game in twelve days. It appeared that the emotional and physical fatigue from those game might have finally caught up this young team as Denver pushed their lead to nine with just over nine minutes remaining in the game. But the Terps fought back, utilized a somewhat unconventional five guard lineup, and pulled out the victory, 62-52.
"They had complete control of the game. We couldn't score and our post guys couldn't score against them" head coach Mark Turgeon said following the game.
With their season hanging in the balance, Mark Turgeon decided to go with a lineup that was both unconventional and one that they'd never practiced; five guards on the court at the same time.
"Our big lineup couldn't guard them, we went small, we went five guards and made up an offense" Turgeon said.
"I don't know if the fourth foul on Alex [Len} did it; we were desperate, we couldn't guard them. Let's try to spread them out and get to the foul line. That's why we did it. There is no tomorrow. Now there is but there wasn't. You went with what your gut told you to do and we got it done. We couldn't have done that six weeks ago, there is no way. We couldn't have adjusted and done the things that we did. We made very few mistakes down the stretch, that is hard to do and hard to guard. I am proud of our group."
When asked about the lineup, freshman Seth Allen talked about how he and his teammates had to go with the flow, trying to score and get back into the game. "We've never practiced it before. It's never been practiced, five guards at once. We always have somebody big, like Charles or Alex, or somebody. But that time it was just straight guards. For it to work out how it did, it was great."
Maryland finished the game on a 24-4 run, winning by ten.
The Terps continued a recent trend of fighting back when faced with adversity over the last several weeks. Mark Turgeon has said during that time he's noticed a different resolve and fight, something that was again evident tonight.
When asked about what Turgeon was telling his players in the huddle, Seth Allen provided insight into what his coach was saying to him and his teammates. "He's telling us be calm, stay poised, we're still in it. Just believe and keep playing them as hard as you can and if we play with enthusiasm and energy and they still win, we're going to shake their hand."
"Offensively, we played with poise" Turgeon said. "We went through Dez and we got to the foul line. We kept talking about getting to the foul line and we did that. I was nervous all day. I knew this was going to be a hard one for us. We're gassed. Six games in twelve days and keep having to play a small lineup. We're gassed and our guys just had guts. Just guts and just didn't want it to end. That's a really good win for us for what we've been through, all the emotional things we've been through the last twelve days. Our kids battled. We didn't want the season to end. I am really proud of them."
Maryland also benefited from Denver's Chris Udofia picking up his fourth foul. Udofia led all scorers with 24 points and was the Pioneers go-to scorer before picking up his forth foul.
"Obviously, they went smaller, but we matched it" Denver head coach Joe Scott said after his team's loss. "Foul trouble on [Chris] Udofia was a key factor for us. He's our best player and people across the country got to see how good the kid is"
"I thought Denver was great" Turgeon said. "That guy's one heck of a coach.There's a reason they were the three seed. There's a reason they've won 20 out of 22 games coming in. In the end my guys just wanted it. It was great to see."
As a result of playing their five guard lineup, sophomore Dez Wells found himself in the role of a front court player, posting up Denver guards multiple times as he pivoted to the basket to score, with somewhat of an ease.
"He's always in the post" Allen said about Wells' front court play. "We have plays to put him in the post because he's so strong, he has a strong base. He holds his ground very well. Just give him the ball in the post and he's very crafty. He has extra pivots. He's good in the post."
"Dez is good in the post" sophomore Nick Faust said when asked about his teammate's front court play. "That's what makes him so versatile. Having him down there really opened up shots for us. I felt like our big guys were posting, but they were just too little for them I guess. It was just too packed in. Having Dez in there really helped us."
"Regardless of where I got the ball, I was going to try to do something to help my team out, whether it was scoring or whether it was passing it or just drawing a foul or making a play for somebody else" Wells said. "I just wanted to do whatever it took for my team to win."
When Wells was asked about whether he thought Denver was caught off guard by Maryland's switch to a five guard line up, he joked about the makeup of Denver's starting five.
"I mean they start five guards! They don't have any post players. Those guys aren't post players. They're skilled enough to play the post, but they have guard skills. They're just good players."
When Wells was asked why he thought the five guard lineup worked, he said "We scored more than they did. That's all that matters."
For Maryland, what matters most is that their season continues, either with another home game in College Park on Tuesday, should Alabama lose on Saturday, or with a trip to Tuscaloosa on Tuesday if the Crimson Tide win. Regardless of location, Maryland will have the opportunity to continue building on their new and improved successes. Hopefully it propels them to the NIT Finals in New York.