For a little over 20 minutes, it was the same old script for Maryland basketball.
Mid-major comes into the Comcast Center. The two spar in the early moments. The Terrapins get on a run, extend a lead to around double-digits at halftime. Stretch that lead to around 20 in the opening minutes of the second half. Coast home with an easy win.
It's something that's more or less happened in six of Maryland's last eight games, and after torching the Stony Brook Seawolves in the first half with 58% shooting from three, it seemed like it'd continue again.
But Stony Brook is a different type of mid-major, one that took UConn down to the closing minutes earlier in the year and is ranked 85th in RPI. And whereas the other mid-major fodder folded when faced with a seemingly-insurmountable lead, Stony Brook rallied. Their comeback didn't come all at once, but ever after Maryland opened up 56-36 lead just minutes into the second half, the Seawolves chipped and chipped and chipped away, until eventually they found themselves down just three with 1:22 to play.
That's when Maryland, which had been devoid of answers all second half long, needed to punch back in the worst way. It's fitting, too, that the two that stepped up are the two Terps rapidly emerging as the Terrapins runaway leaders and best players: Dez Wells and Alex Len.
First, Len grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul, going to the line to shoot two. He missed both, but Wells hustled for a rebound, somehow kept the ball in and even more improbably found Len, who slammed home with authority and intensity to give Maryland a five-point lead and control of the game. Five more free throws down the stretch - from Pe'Shon Howard, Nick Faust, and Wells himself - would seal the deal, but that was the play that turned the game for good. And it capped off a sensational night for both players.
Wells finished the night with a hyper-efficient 19 points on 7-9 shooting, bolstered by a 4-5 performance from the stripe. Len pitched in 19 of his own, plus 9 rebounds, four of which were offensive. Maryland called upon the two time and time again, and it's become obvious that when Maryland needs plays, it'll be those two that they turn to.
And so Maryland escapes with a seven-point win, a margin that, on the level, sounds about right. The Terrapins showcased a lot of things to like tonight, from their ability to take a punch and close out a game, to clutch free throw shooting, to the aforementioned Wells/Len dominance duo, and even to vastly-improved three-point shooting: the Terps shot 50% from beyond-the-arc on the day, 7-12 in the first half. We thought earlier in the year that they needed some outside shooting to potentially be an elite ACC team; well, here it is. Seth Allen, Pe`Shon Howard, and Logan Aronhalt combined to shoot 7-12 themselves from long-range, and if they can get that every once in awhile, this is a different team to deal with.
But there was also one obvious concern, aside from occasional defensive lapses and offensive errors: Maryland may not yet know how to close out a game against good, gritty opposition. Stony Brook never let the game get out of hand; even in the first half, they'd find a perfect time to stunt one of Maryland's runs and keep the game from blowing open, banking that they'd be able to make it up later in the game. And, of course, they did. Teams in previous years have struggled to do this against mid-majors; whereas Maryland's usually handled it well and even blew out Northwestern, George Mason gave them a scare and Stony Brook did as well. It's not hard to see a team like Virginia Tech or Florida State making a late run like that, if they're given the opportunity.
Past that, this might've been a bit of a wake-up call for Maryland's interior defense, which can usually beat opposition into submission but was exposed a few times against Stony Brook. And it's another reminder that their offensive sets can fall apart all too easily when they lose patience, as they often do.
But this game was expected to be a close one, and that's exactly what it was. Stony Brook is solid and were never going to roll over; a run was coming at some point. I had expected it early; turns out it came late. But Maryland played well, learned something about themselves, and got their win. Tough to ask for a lot more when you've got one game in all of 17 days.