The Maryland Terrapins looked sloppy and listless in the first half of their first round NIT matchup with Niagara, as fans started to have flashbacks to the disappointing 2008 first-round exit to Manhattan. And then they turned the jets on.
After a slightly disappointing first twenty minutes, the Terps won the second half 51-34 and simply blitzed the Purple Eagles out of the game, transforming a tied first half score to a blowout on the final whistle, 86-70, a margin that could've been much larger had the Terps not played the final minute with walkons. Nick Faust led the way, dropping 15 points and adding 12 boards for his first career double-double, and Seth Allen added an efficient, under-control 15 of his own.
The first half was sloppy and disappointing, but it wasn't unexpected; the Comcast Center was largely empty and Maryland seemed to be a big hungover from the intense weekend effort required by the ACC Tournament. They actually trailed for much of the first half as Niagara hit an uncharacteristic number of jumpers and the Terps struggled to take care of the ball themselves. But they regrouped with a 10-0 run late, and got into half tied.
And once the second half came along, Mark Turgeon figured out Maryland's proper lineup and the Terps started to fire on all cylinders. They needed to work their way into the game, but once they got there they were clinical: the pace quickened, they dominated on the break, and their execution on both ends of the court was nigh-flawless. The half started on a 19-3 run; Niagara couldn't keep up and visibly tired, and from there on in it was smooth sailing.
The final twenty minutes of the game continued the impressive showing from Greensboro, although the game in entirety probably didn't necessarily build on it. Still, there was a lot to be encouraged about in the way Maryland got out and ran, plus their uncharacteristic passing in the halfcourt in the second half: multiple times they worked 30 seconds off the shot clock under a pressuring defense, then sliced through them to find - and even hit - an open look. Whether or not this progress continues, three weeks ago this team couldn't have held the ball for 30 seconds without stepping out of bounds, throwing the ball away, or dribbling it off their foot. Even against poor competition, it was a fun 20 minutes to watch, especially on a day that favorites like Kentucky and Florida State fell to inferior competition. The Terps, unlike so many others, showed up tonight.
They move on to the next round to face the winner of Ohio and Denver; the date isn't finalized yet, but it'll take place again in College Park, hopefully with a slightly bigger crowd.