COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) - In a season draped in disappointment, Maryland found hope in a thrilling victory that probably should never have been so close.
Although the Terrapins blew a 10-point lead in the final two minutes at home against a lower-tier Atlantic Coast Conference foe, coach Mark Turgeon has reason to believe Wednesday night’s 74-71 win over Miami will ultimately be remembered as the moment his team finally began playing to its potential.
Soon after Dez Wells hit the game-winning 3-pointer, Turgeon spoke excitedly about how the Terrapins (12-9, 4-4) shared and shot the basketball, especially during a second half in which they 16 for 23 (69.6 percent) from the field.
“We did a lot of things well,” he said. “We really executed.”
That hasn’t often been the case for an erratic offense and an inconsistent team. The Terrapins won the Paradise Jam in November, but also lost at home to Boston University and frittered away a nine-point halftime lead in a defeat at North Carolina State. Prior to defeating Miami, Maryland had dropped four of five.
Now, perhaps, the Terrapins poised to make something good happen during their final ACC season.
“We’re getting there,” Turgeon said. “I know we only won by three, but we’re getting better. We really are.”
Wells picked up two early fouls against the Hurricanes and went scoreless over five minutes in the first half. After the break, the team’s leading scorer and unquestioned emotional leader scored 21 points without missing a shot.
Maryland finished with 15 assists and only 10 turnovers against a team that hadn’t before yielded more than 67 points in league play. The defense forced 14 turnovers, nine after halftime.
“It was just a good game for us as a team,” Wells said. “We defended really well in the second half. I feel like we could have done better, but that comes with experience. We are going to build off this win.”
The squad has only one senior, reserve John Auslander, so it’s no surprise that it’s taken some time for things to mesh.
“I think everybody’s growing up. Slowly,” Turgeon said. “Not everybody. Most guys are. That helps.”
The maturation process continues Saturday at Virginia Tech, which begins a stretch of four of five on the road.
“I’m encouraged the way we’re sharing the ball, and all our defensive mistakes are correctable,” Turgeon said. “I’m excited. I hate the way we finished the game, but I can fix that. That’s not going to be a problem for us moving forward.”
The remaining schedule is not easy. In addition to facing Duke, North Carolina and Virginia on the road, the Terps host unbeaten Syracuse on Feb. 24. That win over Miami may be forgotten by then, but for now it’s provided the team with the knowledge that a selfless performance will yield a positive result.
“It was a huge confidence builder for us,” said Jake Layman, who contributed 15 points. “We were a little down, but we know that the fight’s not over. We’re feeling good right now.”
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