— A few weeks ago, Tuesday night's game against Boston College at Comcast Center appeared to be a breather for the Maryland men's basketball team, the young and undersized Eagles wedged between road trips to North Carolina and Duke.
It nearly turned out to be a lot more for the struggling Terps.
Going down to the last minute before an announced 13,941 that included 2002 NCAA championship stars Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter, Maryland escaped with a 64-59 victory that helped the Terps avoid their fourth loss in a stretch of five games.
“I'm really proud of my team, we've had an unbelievably tough stretch… and we gutted it out,” second-year coach Mark Turgeon said. “We figured out a way to win.”
Sophomore center Alex Len, who had been held to 10 points in each of the last two games, led Maryland (15-4, 3-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) with 16 points and 13 rebounds, tying his career high, while freshman forward Jake Layman added 15 points.
It was the third start for Layman, who struggled the first half of the season but had a career-high 20 in a start Jan. 5 against Virginia Tech. Layman, who grew up outside Boston and was recruited by the Eagles, also had five rebounds.
“It was fun,” said Layman, who started for the third time this season. “We're still trying to figure things out, to try different stuff. It's a process.”
Sophomore swingman Dez Wells finished with only five points, but had eight assists — seven in the second while running the offense because sophomore Nick Faust (City) struggled at the point. But Faust also had some big plays — a 3-point shot, a strip and two free throws to secure the win.
Turgeon had to go to a smaller lineup to counter the smaller Eagles — using four perimeter players mostly surrounding Len. Much of the offense ran through Wells since the 6-foot-5 transfer was able to get to the basket — mostly for passes. His kick-out pass to senior guard Logan Aronhalt resulted in a huge 3 during Maryland's second half run.
“Nick was having trouble handling the ball, Pe'Shon is not the threat coming off ball screens and Seth [Allen] didn't have one of his particularly good games and we went with Dez,” Turgeon said in explaining his move to have Wells, who had never played point, run the offense. “He made plays for people. We put the ball in Dez's hands we went from down three to up 10.”
With Len on the bench, Maryland went on an 8-0 run to turn a 43-40 deficit into a 48-43 lead. But the Eagles cut the lead to 52-49. A layup by Layman and a lay-in by Len helped stop the comeback with Boston College (9-9, 1-4) never getting any closer than three.
“I think their ability to go deep [on the bench] helps them for sure,” said Boston College coach Steve Donahue, whose team has lost four of its last five games. “I thought they were fresher at the end.”
Both Layman and Len gave a lot of credit to Wells, who might be taking more of a role running the team going forward.
“I don't think he was focused on scoring, he was focused on getting the ball to other guys like he did to Logan for the 3,” Layman said.
Said Len, “He did a great job. He really got everyone involved.”
Still, Boston College made things interesting – while the Terps made things tough on themselves at times by missing a lot of shot around the rim and not getting to the free throw line (seven of 12 for the game) despite a huge advantage in size. Maryland had trouble stopping both sophomore forward Ryan Anderson (19 points, seven rebound) and freshman guard Olivier Hanlan (18 points).
But the defense which saw the Eagles make five straight 3-pointers (after missing their first eight) and taking a 5-point lead in the first half, finally clamped down on Boston College at the end. Faust's free throws secured the win with 4.7 seconds left.
“Our guys believe in our defense, and pretty soon we are going to be believing in our offense,” said Turgeon, whose team scored 52, 51 and 47 in its last three games. “We are getting better, 64 points tonight and shooting 42 percent feels like 80 percent compared to the way we have been shooting.”