ATLANTA — Maryland’s gleam of moderate overachievement and steady progress dissipated over the final three games of the regular season.
A reinvigorated roster, not to mention a meeting with ACC punching bag Wake Forest, helped bring the Terrapins’ excitement back for at least one day in March.
Eighth-seeded Maryland pulverized ninth-seeded Wake Forest 82-60 in the first round of the ACC tournament Thursday, providing a jolt to a team not quite ready to see its season come to an end.
“That’s the most complete game we have played all year,” coach Mark Turgeon said.
Terrell Stoglin scored 25 points and Nick Faust added 19 for the Terps (17-14), who advanced to meet top-seeded North Carolina (27-4) in Friday’s quarterfinals.
Yes, Maryland maintained flickering NIT hopes and it did so with its most lopsided ACC tournament victory in a decade. The Terps built their largest lead of the season (29 points late in the second half) and produced their second-best assist total of the year (18).
But more than anything, they departed Philips Arena feeling better about vastly better about themselves after some late-season struggles.
Maryland lost to struggling Georgia Tech, was blown out at North Carolina and stretched Virginia to overtime to complete the regular season. A four-game skid to close out the year would not have left a pleasant sensation entering the offseason.
Instead, the Terps embraced their tournament opportunity. Stoglin attempted only 14 shots, his fewest since point guard Pe’Shon Howard was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament. Faust continued his maturation with one turnover in 31 minutes. And Maryland overwhelmed the shallow Demon Deacons (13-18), with walk-on Jonathan Thomas playing 12 valuable minutes to help wear out Wake.
It became apparent quickly in the second half the Demon Deacons had neither the wherewithal nor much interest in keeping pace with the Terps. A one-possession lead rapidly ballooned into a 26-point edge, with Wake coach Jeff Bzdelik helplessly calling three timeouts in the middle of a 30-7 Maryland run.
“I think we played almost 38 or 39 minutes the way coach wanted us to play it,” guard Sean Mosley said. “It was a good feeling, having all the guys scoring the basketball and sharing the basketball.”
It was, for once, a game with the sort of statistical leanings Turgeon’s teams were defined by in his previous stops. Maryland outworked Wake Forest on the glass, rarely settled for lousy shots, was respectable at the foul line and played especially stout defense in the second half on C.J. Harris, the Deacons’ leading scorer who managed only one of his 14 points after the break.
As much as the players needed an afternoon like this, so, too, did Turgeon. He’s made no secret of the difficulties he’s encountered in coaching this team while also touting the enjoyment in extracting what he can from an undermanned group.
Reinforcements are on the way. Atlanta-area forward Charles Mitchell, the No. 76 recruit in the class of 2012 according to Rivals.com, said Thursday morning on his Twitter page he planned to attend Maryland. But the current roster showed it still can prove spunky even near the end of its four-month odyssey.
“We were disappointed with the way we finished the season, so this was huge,” Turgeon said. “This has been a great day — a great day — for Maryland basketball. I can’t talk about everything, but it’s been a great day for us.”