This was a change of pace, a stark contrast to the de facto scrimmages Maryland partook in over the previous three games.
It didn’t look like it for a while Friday night at Comcast Center, yet Stony Brook came and came and came some more, serving as a nuisance in Maryland’s first game after final exams and last contest before a week-long Christmas break.
As the season unfolds, the final score (a 76-69 Terrapins victory) or any of the other numbers associated with Maryland’s 10th consecutive victory (including 19 points from both Alex Len and Dez Wells) won’t matter much.
This was a test, one Maryland didn’t entirely ace but surely didn’t flub, either.
“I think we needed a close game to see how we handled it,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “We missed some free throws and made some free throws. What I really liked was the last four possessions, the kid hit the 3 on the one but we were right there shaking hands with him. I think the other ones we really locked them up and really rebounded the ball. That was good to see. We haven’t been in that situation.”
Not since a season-opening loss to Kentucky had the Terps (10-1) found themselves in a one-possession game in the final minute. This turned out to be both expected and surprising, considering the caliber of the opponent and the tenor of the game.
The Seawolves (8-3) looked every bit like a contender for an NCAA tournament bid on paper, a well-coached bunch with a notable veteran (Tommy Brenton) and an imposing interior force who will have many fine days in the America East (Jameel Warney).
Yet there was Maryland, shredding Stony Brook for much of the first half. Outside shooting, a sore point for swaths of nonconference play, was sizzling as the Terps were 7 of 12 from 3-point range. Turnovers, a puzzling bugaboo to Turgeon even as assists piled up, were not a concern.
When the Terps established a 56-36 lead with 17:54 to go, a full-fledged rout was unfolding. Considering it was against a quality team, it was arguably Maryland’s most impressive stretch of the season.
But things did not go smoothly. The Seawolves made it difficult for Maryland to feed Len in the post. The shooting cooled to some extent. And Stony Brook exploited vulnerability in the Terps’ post defense to narrow the lead more and more and more.
“We haven’t been as challenged as we would have liked to have been challenged these last couple games. … ,” Wells said. “Stony Brook is probably one of the best teams we’ve played this year. They made some tough shots. They executed down the stretch. Luckily for us, we locked down a little bit at the end.”
Just in time, it turned out. Stony Brook closed within 71-69 with 33.1 seconds left, only for Maryland to make five of six foul shots down the stretch while the Seawolves missed their final three 3-pointers.
“Sometimes, when it starts to go the other way, it’s hard to stop it and we couldn’t stop it,” Turgeon said. “But give them credit. They’re good. They’re going to win a lot of games.”
It could, perhaps, be the best team Maryland upends in its nonconference schedule (George Mason will also be in the running for that honor). At the very least, it was the final serious hurdle for the Terps before conference play begins.
Maryland has won 10 straight for the first time in more than a decade, and it is still sorting out just who it will be when ACC play commences. It needs steadier play at power forward from the likes of James Padgett and Charles Mitchell, and there was a hint of a narrowing of the Terps’ 10-man rotation when forward Jake Layman didn’t play in the second half.
For Turgeon’s purposes, there was little to seriously complain about Friday – either dealing with surviving Stony Brook or thriving over the first third of the season.
“Sitting around last summer, if you’d have told me we’d be 10-1 at Christmas break, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Turgeon said.