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After 'business' trip, Terps basketball comes back with a winning keepsake

Maryland cuts down nets after 56-52 win over Providence in Paradise Jam final

By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

7:52 PM EST, November 26, 2013

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ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — For a group that came here on what its coach called a "business" trip, the Maryland men's basketball team certainly found plenty of opportunities for pleasure during its six-day stay at the Paradise Jam.

There were the catamarans the Terps took onto the Caribbean on Saturday after Maryland beat Marist in the opening round. There were more impromptu activities, such as the wall-ball beach games Evan Smotrycz and Jake Layman invented with one of the team managers at the resort where the Terps, their families and many of their fans were staying.

But the most fun Turgeon and his players seemed to have came early Tuesday morning, after the Terps had hung on after nearly all of a 19-point lead disappeared in the last 12 1/2 minutes of a 56-52 victory over Providence in the tournament's championship game.

As his players took turns cutting down one of the nets at the University of the Virgin Islands' Sports and Fitness Center, Turgeon talked about how much winning the tournament meant to his still-rebuilding program, marveled at the plays tournament Most Valuable Player Dez Wells made down the stretch on legs kept a little fresher by first-half foul trouble and how, again, the smallest of his players, 5-foot-10 junior Varun Ram, again factored into the outcome.

"I thought he was terrific," Turgeon said of Ram. "I was a little disappointed in myself that I didn't play him and Roddy [Peters] a little more in the second half. It might have helped us, but they just kept making runs, so I was afraid to do it. But Varun gave us big minutes, a big 3 to go up 19. I thought he did a great job on [Providence guard Bryce] Cotton most of the night."

Ram, who played a year at a Massachusetts prep school after graduating from River Hill and another at Division III Trinity (Conn.) before walking on and sitting out as a transfer at Maryland last season, enjoyed the competition he faced in Cotton. "He said, 'Nice strip,' when I took the ball away from him," said Ram, who is making a habit of that this year.

The Terps' reaction after the final buzzer sounded in the small, raucous gym three days before Thanksgiving was like that seen in much larger venues in March and early April. Even Wells and Smotrycz, the juniors who are the only members of this Maryland team to have been a part of March Madness, seemed a bit in disbelief at this regular-season version of Midnight Madness. (The game ended well past 1 a.m. local time.)

Asked whether the way the game unfolded, with the Terps needing to stop one final run by the Friars, could help Maryland in the future, Wells looked a few months down the road, rather than a couple years.

"It gives Roddy and Damonte [Dodd] and all the young guys a lot of experience," said Wells, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds. "Guys like Jake [Layman], Charles [Mitchell] and Shaq [Cleare], they're battle-tested, they've already been through the struggle. You don't have to worry about those guys. Games like this are really important … if we plan on being in the NCAA tournament."

Smotrycz said winning the title and cutting down the net did not fill any void that might have been there last year, when the Michigan team he left behind got to do that on a much bigger stage en route to the Final Four. Smotrycz said he put that part of his college basketball career behind him when he got to College Park.

"Regardless of all that, like I said, 'I love winning.' This is a great, great step for us, and definitely good to head back to the States with a championship," said Smotrycz, who also scored 13 and was named to the all-tournament team. "Winning three games in four games is really hard to do, especially in a tournament. I was proud of the way we fought."

With his Terps climbing the ladder to cut the net, Turgeon turned away from reporters and made a request.

"Save one for me," he said to them with a smile.

don.markus@baltsun.com