Maryland sought added validation to its strong start Sunday.
The No. 17 Terps found it in an unlikely place -- on the road -- pulling past Oklahoma State, 73-64, at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
During coach Mark Turgeon's first three seasons with the Terps, Maryland had gone just 8-25 on the road heading into Sunday's game. The visit to Oklahoma State represented this team's first true road trip of the season, as well as an opportunity to tack on to a building resume.
The Terps managed both, using a surge out of halftime to forge a big lead that held up.
“We haven't been the best road team since I came to Maryland,” Turgeon said. “It's been really disappointing. And we continue to talk about that. "It's still early, but I feel like we've got two good road wins, even though Iowa State was in Kansas City.“
Forwards Jake Layman and Jared Nickens fueled a 15-3 run to start the second half, with the duo combining for 13 points during the stretch and 32 overall. The Terps had to hold off a late rally by the Cowboys, as Oklahoma State pulled to 69-64 in the final minute, but finished it off to win their fourth straight and improve to 11-1 overall.
”I think this is big for our confidence, especially with Big Ten play right around the corner,“ Nickens said. ”We needed this win going into the Christmas break, for something to fall back on.“
And for something to grow on.
The Terps entered Sunday's game with their highest ranking in the Associated Press poll since 2007. Still, some national analysts seemed to be taking a wait-and-see approach to a squad that had been overhauled in the offseason and enjoyed only limited success in recent seasons.
Sunday played like a statement, with Maryland -- still without injured leading scorer Dez Wells -- controlling a Cowboys team with a history of dominating nonconference foes at home.
Layman finished with a game-high 21 points, including 16 in the second half. And Nickens (11 points), guard Melo Trimble (15 points) and guard Dion Wiley (seven points), a trio of talented freshmen, combined for 33 points.
”This win was great for us as a team,“ Layman said, ”to get this first road win in a tough environment. These young guys will learn from it.“
The Terps led, 32-27, at halftime in a tight defensive matchup.
An 18-4 run late in the first half sent Maryland surging to a 32-22 advantage -- the biggest lead by either team through the first 20 minutes. But the Cowboys scored the final two buckets of the half on a dunk by center Michael Cobbins and a 3-pointer by guard Phil Forte to close the gap.
Maryland quickly worked another run to open the second half, getting buckets on their first six possessions, including two 3-pointers from Nickens and one from Layman.
Soon Maryland's lead was 47-30.
”I told the guys," Turgeon said, "'This game doesn't have to be close if you don't want it to be close. You decide. If we keep guarding and rebounding,' which we didn't rebound as well in the second half, ‘they'll have a hard time guarding us.’
“There's always a streak in us. We have too many good offensive players. Too many guys you have to guard.”
While the Cowboys rallied, the Terps' big opening to the half was too much to overcome.
“I don't know what it was, I thought our energy was good in the locker room coming out,” Forte said. “I thought we were focused. We were only down five at halftime, so we were right in the game. And then we just came out flat.
”We made some mistakes. They got some easy baskets. And we dug ourselves a big hole and were down (17) before you know it.“
Cowboys forward Le'Bryan Nash led all scorers with 11 points in the half, and he finished with a team-high 17.
Maryland returns to action Saturday at home against Oakland, while Oklahoma State next faces Missouri in a neutral site game in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 30.
Notes: The Terps again played without Wells, who has now missed six straight games after surgery to repair a fractured wrist. Wells, who averages 16.2 points per game, could return for Saturday's game against Oakland, although the Big Ten opener at Michigan State might be a better target date. … This was only the second meeting between the two schools. Maryland won the first matchup back in 1966, 50-49, in the Memphis Invitational at the old Mid-South Coliseum. … Oklahoma State had won nine straight home games and 14 straight nonconference home games, the latter streak dating back to 2012.