If there was any question how eager Maryland and its fans were for a quality win, it was answered Wednesday night in the way Terps players leaped up and down and the fans rushed the court after a final-second, 51-50 victory over No. 14 North Carolina State.
The win — Maryland's biggest of the season — came on a broken play. That mattered little to the Terps, who had lost two conference games in a row and were desperate for the sort of victory that might begin to turn this into a memorable season.
“We haven't won a big game since Greivis [Vasquez] was here,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who had thrust his fist into the air after Alex Len's offensive rebound and winning put-back with 0.9 of a second left.
“I didn't come here to be mediocre, and I don't think the players came here to be mediocre,” said Turgeon, in his second season in College Park. “I came here to do great things. We haven't done a lot of great things since I've been here. This is one great thing.”
Before Wednesday night, Maryland (14-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) had not defeated a ranked team since Vasquez's senior year in 2010.
N.C. State led 50-49 and the Terps had the ball after a timeout with 5.2 seconds left.
Maryland's Pe'Shon Howard — who had earlier ended an 0-for-14 field-goal drought spanning nearly four games — drove and put up a shot that Len grabbed out of the air and dropped into the basket.
It was reminiscent of N.C. State's Lorenzo Charles grabbing a miss and dunking at the end of the 1983 NCAA championship game.
“That's exactly how I drew it up,” Turgeon joked. “You have to be good and you have to be lucky. We were pretty lucky at the end to get the win.”
N.C. State had time only for a desperation heave that fell short. Maryland players bounded around the court and were enveloped by fans.
Len smiled when asked about the final play. He said Howard told him that he had been attempting to lob the ball to Len, rather than shoot. It's not clear whether Howard was joking.
“I don't know what it was. I just tipped it in,” Len said.
Turgeon said the play was designed for Len to set a screen — but not for Howard. Len said the screen was to be set for senior guard Logan Aronhalt.
But it didn't work out that way.
“There wasn't one timeout they did what I asked,” Turgeon said of his players.
But Turgeon said he was gratified that Howard had at least tried to drive the ball in the final seconds. He said that hadn't happened in earlier close losses — notably the season-opening defeat to Kentucky. Howard drew the attention of several Wolfpack players with his move toward the basket, leaving Len free underneath.
N.C. State (14-3, 3-1 ACC) had been undefeated in ACC play. “We lost by a fingertip,” forward Scott Wood said.
It felt like a big game early on. Sold-out Comcast Center had that pulsating, high-energy feel that comes only when the players and fans sense that a meaningful contest is at hand.
“Their fans were going crazy,” N.C. State guard Lorenzo Brown said.
The buzz was understandable. For the first time this season, Maryland was hosting a ranked team. The Terps had a new starting lineup and were wearing glitzy new uniforms. They had summoned their iconic former coach, Gary Williams, who was honored at halftime.
N.C. State had trailed most of the game before battling back. Richard Howell's put-back tied the contest at 45 and Wood's 3-pointer gave the Wolfpack its first lead, 48-45, with 4:35 left.
After starting the season 13-1, the Terps had lost two conference games in a row and were eager to gain a foothold for the rest of the season. They wore new, Under Armour-designed “Pride” uniforms recalling the football team's uniforms — with their colors and design evoking the state flag — but tamer.
Maryland opened with its seventh starting lineup of the season. Seth Allen was inserted at shooting guard to supply scoring, while center Shaquille Cleare was used for rebounding. Regular starter Nick Faust moved to point guard.
Allen scored nine points. Cleare had eight.
Turgeon called the game a “hugger.”
Said the coach: “Everybody was hugging in the locker room. Hopefully it [the win] will lead to a lot of other things and help us in areas down the road.”
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