COLLEGE PARK — So many times during Mark Turgeon's first three seasons at Maryland, the Terps played down to the level of their competition. It often resulted in tighter-than-expected victories and, sometimes, shocking defeats.
A good sign for Turgeon is that the No. 19 Terps are playing up to their newly regained status among college basketball's elite as they head to the start of their first Big Ten season later this month.
For the second straight game, Maryland quieted a quality upstart early, putting North Carolina Central away midway through the first half Wednesday and cruising to a 67-56 victory before an announced 8,723 at Xfinity Center.
"I don't want to speak about the past, but we have a good team," Turgeon said. "I enjoy coaching these guys. We're overcoming some adversity with two starters [injured seniors Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz] out. We just keep getting it done, and I think we keep getting better.
Sloppy at the start with seven quick turnovers — three by freshman guard Dion Wiley on his team's first three possessions — the Terps found themselves tied with North Carolina Central (6-4) at 10.
Then came a 25-4 run that was fueled by five straight 3-point shots amid a stretch in which Maryland (9-1) scored on nine straight possessions. It was also the result of the kind of defense the Terps have played for most of the season.
"We executed pretty good during that stretch, but I think the key was getting stops," said senior guard Richaud Pack. "Our defense got us into a groove offensively because it allowed us to get some easier shots and we took care of the ball a little better."
North Carolina Central shot 23 of 61 overall, including 5 of 21 on 3-point shots. Senior forward Jordan Parks led the Eagles with game-high totals 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Said junior forward Jake Layman: "I think us getting stops kind of got us going on the offensive end. It kind of sparked us to make that run. Our offense was just moving very smoothly. We're finding the open guys. We executed great whenever coach called a set. It was great mentally to see how guys responded.
In a half during which the Terps made 14 of 22 shots, including 5 of 8 on 3-pointers, Pack and Layman also led the way offensively.
Pack, who came out of a recent three-game, 0-for-13 shooting slump by driving more to the basket, finished with a team-high 17 points, including seven of 10 from the free-throw line. Layman, whose outside shooting seemed to fall off as he spent more time playing inside, shot 6 of 9 overall, 3 of 5 on 3-pointers.
"When we got it going, he [Layman] was instrumental in that," Turgeon said of Layman, who has been in double figures in each game this season. "I see it every day, so I kind of expect it. What Jake has realized in the last 10 days is that he has good players around him, so he doesn't have to force things. He let the game come to him. That's where he has grown up the most."
The victory came over a North Carolina Central team that is rebuilding after making the NCAA tournament last season. While crediting the Terps for separating themselves with the first-half run, Eagles coach LeVelle Moton also chastised his own players for not contesting shots for the last 10 minutes before halftime.
"The margin of error is small, we defended for the first 10 minutes of the game, for the last 10 minutes of the first half we didn't play 'D'," said Moton, whose frustration led to a first-half technical foul. "They made shots, hats off to them, but they were wide open. That's not unlike us. We've got a lot of work to do."
Turgeon feels the same way, though the bigger challenge in the near future will come when he has to fit the pieces back together as Wells, expected to be out a month with a fractured right wrist, and Smotrycz, who is still bothered by soreness in the left foot he broke before the season started, return.
Both should be back when the Terps open their first Big Ten season Dec. 30 at Michigan State.
One thing that will continue to grow is Maryland's collective confidence, which began to blossom when the Terps upset then-No. 13 Iowa State in the championship game of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo., two weeks ago and remained intact after its first loss of the season, an 11-point defeat to then-No. 7 Virginia a week ago.
"I think they're all very confident guys to start with, once they kind of figure it all out on the defensive end and how to play on the offensive end, they're all going to be really, really great players," Layman said.