Maryland 86, Niagara 70 at Comcast Center on Tuesday (NIT first round)
Given how unpredictable the Terps have been for most of the past two months, nobody was quite sure which of Mark Turgeon’s teams would show up for the first postseason game. Would it be the one that beat Duke twice and nearly did the same to North Carolina last Saturday in Greensboro? Or would it be the one that sleepwalked through the second half of road losses at Boston College and Georgia Tech?
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I’m sure Turgeon didn’t have a good feeling when an early 9-2 lead disappeared, Niagara started hitting 3s and the Terps were about to go down seven points late in the first half. A missed one-and-one by Niagara opened the door and Maryland took over. Niagara coach Joe Mihalich later said that it was the pivotal moment in the game.
I know it’s the NIT, but as Kentucky showed in losing at Robert Morris on Tuesday night, some teams seem to want their seasons to end. Maryland clearly doesn’t, resembling the bunch that played with a spark when they were beating up on nonconference opponents in the preseason. This time, the Terps beat a good mid-major team soundly, something they had not done back in December.
I asked Turgeon after the Niagara win if he sensed his team played a little looser than it had recently and might have contributed to one of Maryland’s best performances of the season.
He completely disagreed with my premise.
“I thought we played pretty freely at Virginia, we just didn’t get it done,” Turgeon said of the overtime loss in Charlottesville to close the regular season, a game when the Terps blew a 17-point lead. “I thought the first half at Wake Forest we felt pressure. After that, I don’t think we played that way. Carolina was just three games in three days. I think we’ve played loose. We’ve been determined to become a better basketball teams and wherever that takes us that takes us.”
It will take Maryland to a second-round game Thursday night at home against Denver.
Another late-season surge for Faust
A lot of Maryland’s improvement the past few weeks has to do with the sudden steadiness of sophomore guard Nick Faust (City). A month ago, I wrote a story about Faust’s uneven season. Since scoring a season-high 18 points in a home win over Clemson on Feb. 23, Faust has resembled the player who finished strong his freshman year.
In the nine games starting with Clemson, Faust has averaged 13.3 points (scoring in double figures eight times). He has shot nearly 58 percent from the field (47 of 71) and 45 percent on 3s (18 of 40). What struck me Tuesday night against Niagara was the way Faust was attacking the boards, finishing with a career-high 11 rebounds to go along with a team-high 15 points (sharing honors there with Logan Aronhalt and Seth Allen).
“It was me getting after it, me really trying to help my team,” Faust said in the locker room after the game.
Faust’s late-season revival coincides with Turgeon moving him back to his natural position, on the wing.
As Pe’Shon Howard emerged from Turgeon’s doghouse to get back into the rotation and eventually the starting lineup at point guard, Faust showed where he is comfortable playing.
While turnovers continue to be a problem, the other parts of Faust’s game have picked up.
Seniors going out differently
Aronhalt and fellow senior James Padgett are in completely different places as their careers wind down.
Aronhalt, who transferred to Maryland after playing at Albany, recovered from his desperation airball to tie North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals with a strong performance against Niagara, hitting five of seven 3s in 22 minutes off the bench. Padgett, who played a total of nine minutes in Greensboro, didn’t get off the bench for the second time in three games.