How important was Maryland’s 67-57 victory over Wake Forest? Let’s count the ways it mattered.
* It was critical if the Terps are to retain any fragment of hope of an NCAA tournament berth. Maryland needs that hope to inspire it.
When you’re trying to summon effort late in a close game, it helps to imagine that you’re playing for a big, tangible goal like March Madness.
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“Every win from here on out is a must win for us,” said Dez Wells, who slashed to the basket effectively all day. “We really want to get to the NCAA tournament.”
* It restored a positive sense of identity. Remember that this team is young and a bit fragile. The Terps can be a pretty good defensive team and had felt let down by surrendering 78 points to Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
The team had worked on nothing but defense in practices since then, and coaches awarded spots in the starting lineup based on defensive effort.
“We had to have it, going into the last two games,” guard Logan Aronhalt said. “We had to have this one to keep our spirits up and give us a chance in these last two.”
* It taught them the importance of being physical. Alex Len didn’t have a great game. But Maryland was inspired by the sight of the big man tangling on the floor with Wake Forest’s Devin Thomas as they went after a loose ball with the Terps ahead by four points in the final three minutes. Len would not release the ball.
“We were all telling him, ‘Let go of the ball (after the play was over),’ ”Wells said. “You have to love that. He wanted the ball that bad.”
Aronhalt said Maryland has not been all that it can be. Yes, the Terps are a good rebounding team, statistically speaking. But they had been out-rebounded in the last two road games, both losses. When games were on the line, Maryland was sometimes getting pushed around.
“I think it was good for us to be physical like that,” Aronhalt said. “We have big, strong guys on the team.”