COLLEGE PARK – The appearance of a fading Wake Forest team on Tuesday night at Comcast Center provided an exercise in Maryland’s ability to forget.
The Terps needed to block out their wrenching loss to Duke three nights earlier and the impending matchup with undefeated, top-ranked Syracuse in their next game on Monday. They needed to ignore vast patches of red seats left empty because many fans chose to skip an opponent who had lost its previous five games and happened to arrive in between the Terps’ biggest games of the year. Maryland couldn’t afford to harp on its dwindling chances for a postseason berth.
After a difficult start, Maryland regained its focus and defeated Wake Forest, 71-60, behind Nick Faust’s career-high 20 points.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon acknowledged that the Terps may have been mentally weary after the Duke game, but credited them with hanging in after starting poorly. Fans in the announced crowd of 10,665 audibly groaned when the Terps — who missed 13 of their 16 shots — committed early miscues.
“You become a good team when you don’t play particularly well and you’re still in control,” Turgeon said. “We all move forward. We know what lies ahead and what opportunities we have.”
Maryland (15-12, 7-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) got a lift from forward Charles Mitchell, who was eager to move on after his final-second misses in the two-point loss to Duke.
Mitchell had 12 points and seven rebounds. On Maryland’s first possession, the sophomore posted up and took a pass from point guard Seth Allen in the lane — a play reminiscent of one the Terps ran in the last seconds at Duke. This time, he made the shot.
After the Duke game, Mitchell said he was besieged with texts and “a billion tweets” from people wanting to discuss the outcome. He said he put his phone in “airplane mode” to stop the incoming messages. “I really didn’t try to focus on it,” he said.
His teammates said they never worried about Mitchell’s resilience. “Chuck is a tough kid. That wouldn’t carry over,” said forward Jake Layman (11 points).
Wake Forest cut a 14-point deficit to 56-50 before the Terps seized control. A field goal and foul shot by Evan Smotrycz pushed the margin back to 63-52 with 2:26 left.
The Terps won despite getting just six points from season scoring leader Dez Wells, who was limited by foul trouble.
Faust only missed four of his 11 shots and converted four 3-pointers.
“I was just feeling it,” he said. “Today was definitely a complete game.”
The Demon Deacons (14-12, 4-9 Atlantic Coast Confererece) hadn’t won in more than three weeks and had not beaten Maryland in its last seven tries. So it was a game in which the Terps — who still hope to make a case for a postseason bid — had little to gain and everything to lose.
Trailing early, the Terps seemed to draw inspiration from a hard foul committed by Wake Forest power forward Devin Thomas, the brother of Maryland’s women’s basketball star Alyssa Thomas.
Thomas was assessed a flagrant foul when he knocked Wells to the floor with the Terps trailing 20-16 in the first half.
Maryland fans loudly chanted “Alyssa’s better” at her younger brother.
Last year, Thomas had traded forearm shoves with former Maryland center Alex Len.
“I always love playing against Devin Thomas,” Mitchell said. “Playing against players like that is always fun.”
The Terps quickly trailed by eight points. “You can’t ask for better starts than what we had,” Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “But then we hit a stretch where we just sputtered.”
But they rallied after Wells went down – he remained on the floor for several minutes – to take a 30-25 halftime lead.
Thomas, who had 11 points and 15 rebounds, was helped from the floor in the second half after committing a foul on Smotrycz. Smotrycz’s layup and free throw pushed Maryland’s lead to 52-38. Thomas returned moments later.