BALTIMORE — For much of the first half in Maryland men’s basketball’s matinee against Charlotte, the atmosphere inside Royal Farms Arena was tense and antsy.
Melo Trimble has “been through this all year,” the shambolic and stagnant openings. Terrapins basketball fans can say the same, but don’t have the same patience. After Maryland committed their ninth turnover that led to a 49ers bucket in transition, yielding a 32-22 Charlotte lead with 5:42 remaining in the first half, silence filled the hollow Baltimore arena.
So, when Mark Turgeon was asked to explain the sluggish start after his Terrapins surged to an 88-72 win, he said he “didn’t expect to be great” due to off-court hindrances.
Over the eight day break between games, majority of the Terrapins basketball team caught the stomach flu. Maryland was also mentally taxed, a few days removed from a grueling week of final exams. Plus, starter Damonte Dodd and key reserve Dion Wiley were sidelined to injury.
“We had a lot of things going on this week,” Turgeon continued. “It’s hard this time of year.”
Nonetheless, Maryland (12-1) found a way to come through yet again.
The Terrapins chipped away at the 10-point deficit when 6-foot point guard Anthony Cowan finished a contested layup around 7-foot center Benas Griciunas to cut the gap to eight. Cowan’s layup ignited a 12-3 run the final four minutes and five seconds of the first half, and it was capped by an energizing Michal Cekovsky put-back slam, which drew the Terrapins within one, 37-36, at the intermission.
After making 1-of-9 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half, Maryland turned the tide to rip off a 40-17 run for nearly 12 minutes (14:22 to 2:45). They drilled 9-of-12 3-point attempts during the momentous stretch, starting with Jaylen Brantley’s trey to break a 47-47 tie with 14:22 to go.
“Coach Turgeon gave us an earful,” Trimble said of the halftime scene. “We responded the right way.”
Less than a minute later, and in a 44 second span, freshman forward Kevin Huerter gave the Terrapins a 53-47 and 56-49 lead on two 3-pointers. Jared Nickens’ 3-ball pushed Maryland’s lead to 60-51 with 10:41 remaining, and when Charlotte drew to within five, Trimble rattled off nine straight points to pad the lead to 69-57 with under seven minutes to go.
A five-point burst from Cowan extended Maryland’s lead to 77-63, and 3-pointers from Trimble and Brantley, a jumper from Trimble and a layup from Cowan gave the Terrapins their largest lead at 87-64 under three minutes left in regulation.
In the second half, Maryland made 10-of-16 attempts from 3-point-land. In Turgeon’s eyes, the 3-point barrage wasn’t expected given the inside-outside type of offense the sixth year coach preaches.
“We tell them not to settle,” Turgeon said. “We just got in a groove.”
Trimble produced a team-high 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-6 from downtown, all coming in the second half. Cowan made 9-of-10 free throw attempts and 3-of-4 field goals to end up with 16 points while running the fast break with five assists and two steals. Ivan Bender, Cekovsky and Huerter all finished with 10 points. Cekovsky pulled down a game-high six rebounds, all being offensive.
Upper Marlboro native Jon Davis gave his backyard school a run for their money, as he ended up with a game-high 28 points on 10-of-12 shooting for Charlotte (6-5).
Maryland’s bench outscored Charlotte’s, 26-10 behind Bender, Brantley (eight), Nickens (six) and Gill (two).
Turgeon said they’ll have a “well deserved” day off or two before preparing for their first conference game against Illinois next Tuesday.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” Trimble said. “Big 10 is different, every game is not going to easier.”
And it’s really not going to get easier for Maryland, who survived a mediocre non-conference schedule by winning six games by six points or less, including three games by one point. After Illinois, the Terrapins will host Nebraska on New Year’s day before traveling to Michigan on January 7.
“I feel great about my team,” Turgeon said. “They answer the bell every time.”