In a key ACC battle with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Maryland Terrapins once again found themselves down at halftime, facing an uphill battle if they wanted to avoid their third consecutive loss. And instead of laying down like they had in the second half versus both Pittsburgh and Florida State, the Terps came out firing in en route to a confidence-boosting comeback win, 74-66.
Dez Wells scored 17 points -- all in the second half -- Seth Allen added 13, Charles Mitchell finished with 10 and Jake Layman added eight points and 10 rebounds to lead the much-needed victory.
The Terps got off to an encouraging fast start, using a relentless offensive attack and threes by Jake Layman and Seth Allen to jump out to a 10-4 lead three minutes in. But the Irish quickly turned the tables, reeling off a 17-2 run that was highlighted by eight straight points by Pat Connaughton as Maryland's defensive struggles continued.
Nick Faust brought the crowd back to life with a thundering ally-oop off a pass by Seth Allen 10 minutes into the half, ending the Notre Dame run. But the Irish responded with Connaughton hitting his third three of the half, while on the other side Maryland couldn't buy a shot from the perimeter -- despite having several open looks. The Terps missed 13(!) straight threes after starting the game two-for-two, before Faust finally sunk one with a minute left in the half.
Mark Turgeon's team headed into the locker room after the first 20 minutes down 34-25, with Dez Wells having zero points and with Connaughton already having 15, which was more than his season average.
A Seth Allen layup to open the second stanza brought the Terps within seven, and after Notre Dame had a shot clock violation Allen threw another ally-oop -- this time to Dez Wells -- who slammed home his first points of the game. Maryland's defense tightened up as well, holding the Irish scoreless through the first TV timeout of the half.
A flurry of offensive rebounds eventually led to a Charles Mitchell hook shot, and another rebound and put-back by him on the ensuing possession cut Notre Dame's lead to one while the Irish were still searching for their first points since the halftime buzzer. Garrick Sherman finally got them on the board again with a lay-up with 13:19 to go, but Mitchell answered right back on the other end with yet another layup.
Irish head coach Mike Brey, irate with what he felt was a no-call on a potential foul by Jake Layman, let the refs hear it and promptly got T'd up with his team up by just a point. Layman, who seems to be Turgeon's designated free-throw shooter on technicals this season, hit one of two and Seth Allen followed with a deep three to bring the crowd to its feet and give the Terps their first lead since early in the first half, 39-36.
After an Irish turnover, Layman converted Maryland's third ally-oop of the night to cap a furious 16-2 run by his team. But Notre Dame, finally showing signs of life in the second half, fought their way to the free throw line and cut the deficit to 43-41 on a jumper by Demetrius Jackson before Evan Smotrcyz drilled his first three of the game on the other end.
Also coming to life was Dez Wells, who began to assert himself in the lane, drawing fouls and scoring five straight points to give the Terrapins their largest lead of the game as they went up 51-43 with 7:39 to play. One of the highlights of the night came with five minutes left when Shaq Cleare spun around a defender in the paint for a short jumper and the foul, as the Maryland bench exploded and even Turgeon was all smiles.
The Irish, determined to keep the game within reach, cut the lead back to 58-50 on a layup by Sherman, but Wells tipped in a missed three by Smotcryz to bump it back up to 10, where the score held through the under-4 timeout. Notre Dame got as close as within five the in the final two minutes, but key free throws by Dez Wells and a timely three by Faust down the stretch helped secure the win.
Maryland controlled the boards all night, grabbing 20 offensive rebounds alone to Notre Dame's 11 and out-rebounding the Irish by eight overall. The Terps also took advantage of 17 Irish turnovers, while only committing 10 of their own. After scoring 15 in the first half, Connaughton only managed two free throws in the second to finish with 17.
Of note: Roddy Peters played just eight overall minutes, and was noticeably absent during the second half comeback.
The Terps have had a tough week and a half -- not to mention an extremely tough season -- but you have to be encouraged by the heart this team showed tonight, sparking their own comeback and then withstanding the one that the Irish tried to counter with late.