Maryland coach Mark Turgeon knows youthful inconsistency is part of the package when deploying a roster dominated by underclassmen. But during the Terrapins' 72-59 win over Clemson on Saturday, he saw his team showcase an unexpected trait: stability.
Maryland delivered an essential must-win for their hopes of claiming an at-large NCAA tournament bid following a loss at lowly Boston College. By doing so with a season-low eight turnovers, they showed much-elusive signs of steadiness during this maddeningly up-and-down season.
"We just seemed a lot more mature today," Turgeon said, "than we have been in a while."
Starting at point guard, sophomore Nick Faust led the way for the Terps, scoring 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting and — perhaps most importantly — running the offense without a turnover.
While freshmen Jake Layman (12 points) and Shaquille Cleare (10 points) also scored in double-digits, leading scorer Alex Len (nine points, eight rebounds) did not. After four losses, Saturday marked the first time Maryland pulled out a conference win with the sophomore big man not reaching the 10-point threshold.
It was a banner day on the team-first philosophy front, with the Terps triumphing despite Len and second leading-scorer Dez Wells (1 for 6 from the field) struggling to find offensive rhythms.
"Energy is contagious," forward Charles Mitchell said of the collaborative effort. "So if one person is doing something, the whole team starts doing something."
As Maryland (19-8, 7-7 ACC) returned to the scene of its upset last weekend over then-No. 2 Duke, the Terps' midweek loss to Boston College left Comcast Center in a sense of desperation.
Although the Terps were lethargic out of the gate, allowing Clemson (13-13, 5-9) to climb ahead by six, Maryland found its rhythm coming out of the first media timeout. When Layman and Faust nailed back-to-back 3-pointers, the Terps went ahead 18-16, claiming a lead they would never surrender.
While Len scored just two points in the first half, Mitchell picked up the frontcourt slack, compiling eight points and six rebounds off the bench before intermission.
With Cleare and Mitchell teaming up for 18 points and 13 boards in just 36 minutes of combined playing time, it became clear Maryland didn't need Len to dominate on this day.
"It helps a lot having big bodies all throughout the game," Faust said. "It helps us pound on the other team's big guys, so we just try to use them. That's what they're good at, and they help us get our inside-outside play."
Clemson, which was led by forward Devin Booker's 16 points, did trim a double-digit Maryland lead to one by early in the second half.
After the break, however, the game belonged to the Terps. When Len's and-one basket capped a 19-5 run, the margin grew to 56-40 with 11:21 remaining.
From that point on, Turgeon began pleading for a 20-point win. That didn't happen. "We aren't capable of that right now," he concluded.
But the Terps did walk away with a 13-point triumph that kept their at-large tournament hopes alive through at least one more contest.
"Every game is huge for us right now," Layman said. "We can't afford to have any losses that are going to hurt us."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.