Maryland narrowly escaped with a 56-52 win over Providence Monday evening, almost blowing a 19 point second half lead, in route to winning the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The win was Maryland's first in-season tournament win since 2006, when they won the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament with a two point victory over Michigan State.
Maryland jumped out to a quick start , something they've been struggling with this season. Shaq Cleare sank a quick hookshot and Dez Wells scored on a monster one-handed slam before converting a flashy lay up to give Maryland an early 6-0 lead.
But Dez Wells and Jake Layman each picked up early fouls and Mark Turgeon pulled both starters early to avoid getting either into foul trouble early, inserting Varun Ram and Roddy Peters into the game. Peters quickly made his presence known, using a fast crossover dribble to shake a defender, allow him to get to the basket and score uncontested.
Providence struggled out of the gate before going on an 8-3 run to close Maryland's lead to one, five minutes into the half. The Friars came out wanting to play an up-tempo game, which played into Maryland's strengths and allowed the Terps to excel early, something that has plagued them so far this season.
The Friars, who are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, were unable to control the offensive glass early, as Maryland pulled down 11 defensive boards in the game's first ten minutes. They finished the half with a +7 rebounding advantage.
Charles Mitchell, who has been one of Maryland's most consistent scorers on this young season, again had a quick start, scoring seven first half points. Evan Smotrycz, coming off tying his career high on Sunday and Shaq Cleare, also scored seven points in the game's first 20 minutes.
Providence cut Maryland's lead to two with 7:57 left in the half, but held the Friars to just two more points for the remainder, as the Terps finished on a 12-2 run and a 12 point halftime lead. Providence shot just 23% in the first half. The Friars wouldn't score again until the 15:19 mark of the 2nd half.
The second half saw Maryland continue to build their lead as the Friars struggled mightily on the offensive. The Terps also struggled, but were able to push their lead up to 19 before Providence went on a 12-0 to cut the lead down to seven with 8:33 to go. Dez Wells finally broke the scoring drought for Maryland coming out of a timeout, his first bucket since the opening minutes of the game and pushing the Terps' lead back up to nine.
Both teams traded baskets as the game began to draw to a close, with Providence making an effort to neutralize their poor shooting by drawing contact and getting to the free throw line, where they excel. But Maryland again went into a scoring drought, as the Friars cut the Maryland lead down to three with 4:46 to go.
With their offensive struggles continuing, Evan Smotrycz was able to grab a missed shot and draw contact, going to the line and making one of two shots. On the Friars' next possession, Smotrycz did a great job cutting off Ladon as he drove to the basket and making him step out of bounds. On the ensuing possession it was again Smotrycz involved in a key play as he picked up an assist when he found Charles Mitchell under the basket for the easy score.
Just when Maryland thought they might be able to let out a sigh of relief, Bryce Cotton hit a three in the corner and was fouled by Nick Faust, giving him the opportunity for the rare four point play. Cotton converted the free throw, cutting the Maryland lead down to 4.
Charles Mitchell drew the foul on Maryland's next possession, sending the sophomore to the free throw line where he has struggled this season. Mitchell missed the front end of the one and one and Providence secured the rebound and Bryce Cotton made what appeared to be a three point shot, cutting the lead to one. But the officials reviewed the basket and ruled that Cotton's foot was on the line and changed the basket to a two.
With less than 35 seconds left, the Friars were forced to foul Dez Wells, who went to the line and made both baskets, pushing Maryland's lead back up to four. Wells seemed to carry Maryland down the stretch, willing his team to the finish line and earning the tournament MVP in the process, finishing the game with 13 points, five rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal.
Providence attempted a three to try to cut the lead to one, but missed and Maryland committed a foul, sending Kadeem Batts to the free throw line with just two seconds left. Batts made the first but missed the second and Jake Layman pulled down the rebound and was immediately fouled. Layman made one of two, giving Maryland a four point lead, which was the final margin of victory.
Bryce Cotton, who had a very slow start, finished with a game-high 19 points, 14 of which came in the second half. The Friars shot just 31% from the field and missed the front end of a few key one and ones, something uncharacteristic for one of the nation's best free throw shooting teams.
Evan Smotrycz was named to the all tournament team, joining Dez Wells who was named the tournament's MVP.
The win improved Maryland's record to 4-2 on the season.