After scoring the game's first 16 points, Maryland seemed poised to end the evening's suspense early against Cornell and to open Atlantic Coast Conference play this weekend riding a confidence-inducing seven-game winning streak.
But the Terps are a young team still finding their identity. They are inclined to make their coaches and fans squirm and sweat — which is what happened Tuesday night.
Plagued by second-half mistakes and foul trouble, the Terps gave back nearly all of an early 23-point lead before Sean Mosley (19 points) and Alex Len (15 points, including 5-for-5 from the floor) bailed them out in a 70-62 victory.
"We like to make it interesting, there's no question about that," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said.
The Terps (10-3) will still enter ACC play at North Carolina State on Sunday with a seven-game winning streak. But they also open the conference schedule with doubts about their maturity.
"We showed our inexperience and immaturity, and I just keep hoping we grow out of it," Turgeon said. "We've got to figure it out — it could get real ugly on the road."
Maryland went more than 11 minutes into the second half without a field goal. Turgeon said he resisted calling time-out because he wanted his young team to right itself without his help. That presumably would have meant protecting the ball better and not rushing shots — two of the errors the coach cited.
"We did what not-very-good teams do. We couldn't figure out how to get out of our rut," Turgeon said.
Cornell shot 50 percent in the second half and got to the foul line 15 times, making 11, after not attempting a single free throw in the first half.
Len, the 7-foot-1 center playing in just his third game, made several key plays.
With the Terps up by just three points, Len leaped toward the sideline to save a ball inbounds, then got an offensive rebound and scored a field goal and foul shot to extend the lead to 52-46.
Moments later, Len converted an inside basket and another free throw, making it 55-48. Len picked up his fourth foul with a little more than five minutes left and went to the bench.
"Teams are trying to double-team him now and he's still getting rebounds," Terrell Stoglin, Maryland's leading scorer, said of Len. Stoglin was also in foul trouble and missed extended portions of the second half.
Another putback by Len made it 61-56. "They've got [Len], who's 7-feet-tall. We're trying to get the ball and he's just grabbing it," said Cornell coach Bill Courtney.
But the Big Red cut the margin to 61-60 on senior guard Drew Ferry's baseline drive with 2:10 left.
Stoglin's 3-pointer made it 64-60 and the Terps hung on.
Maryland was trying to avoid becoming another ACC team to lose to an Ivy League school. Florida State has lost to Princeton and Harvard, Boston College lost to Harvard, and Wake Forest escaped Yale by one point.
The Big Red — on a four-game losing streak and last in the Ivy League in rebounding — aren't nearly the same team as the one that went to the Sweet Sixteen in 2010. That team's coach, Steve Donahue, is now coach of Boston College.
But Cornell rattled the Terps and their fans.
The Terps opened the game with their best run of the season. The Big Red didn't score until freshman guard Devin Cherry (14 points) hit a shot to make it 16-2 with 14:09 left in the first half.
Maryland pushed the lead to 26-5 on consecutive 3-pointers by Mosley, who has been playing with a sore right ankle and hadn't scored in double figures in the previous three games.
Fourteen of Cornell's first 18 shots were 3-point attempts. The Big Red made just three of the 3s.
The Terps had 13 assists on their first 17 field goals.
But Cornell came back. The Big Red cut the margin to 43-39 on Cherry's 3-pointer as the Terps were plagued by turnovers. A Galal Cancer free throw made it 43-40 and a jump hook by Eitan Chemerinski cut the margin to one point with 11:48 left as the Maryland crowd grew quiet.
"Hopefully we can figure out better ways to get to the foul line and get easy buckets when we're not doing what we're supposed to do," Turgeon said.
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