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Maryland overcomes another slow start to beat Charlotte, 88-72, at Royal Farms Arena

The future of Maryland men's basketball games in Baltimore is uncertain for now, the last of the Terps' consecutive games at Royal Farms Arena ending Tuesday night before an announced and ecstatic 7,139.

But after Maryland's 88-72 win over Charlotte, there might be no greater advocate for a return to Charm City than coach Mark Turgeon. After all, the Terps (12-1) seem to have developed something of a strategy in Baltimore: Struggle early, pull away late and shoot the dang lights out.

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A year after a 12-for-25 3-point shooting performance paced Maryland in an 82-61 win over Princeton, the team's first Baltimore game since 1999, the Terps shot 11-for-25 from deep against the 49ers (6-5) in their nonconference finale. A one-point halftime deficit turned into an early holiday present for those bundled courtside in red sweaters and coats.

Maryland, which moved to 11-2 all time in Baltimore with its seventh straight win in the city, heads into its holiday break with its Big Ten Conference opener next Tuesday against Illinois awaiting on the other side. There are still problems to address, turnovers chief among them, but Melo Trimble is not one.

The junior guard finished with a team-high 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting, outdone only by Charlotte sophomore guard Jon Davis (28 points). Terps freshman guard Anthony Cowan had 16 points and five assists, and junior center Michal Cekovsky, freshman guard Kevin Huerter and sophomore forward Ivan Bender all finished with 10 points.

"Our guys like coming over here," Turgeon said. "Every time we come to the city, there's so many Terp fans over here. They make you feel special. We've enjoyed it the last two years. Of course, we've won both games, which helps."

Maryland waited nearly four minutes in the second half before attempting its first 3-pointer. That was perhaps not a surprise; against Charlotte's changing zone defense, the Terps had gone 1-for-9 from deep in the first 20 minutes. Their 10th attempt, from Trimble, was good. It was a good omen.

Minutes later, they went ahead, 50-47, on a 3-pointer by junior guard Jaylen Brantley. Then Huerter hit a 3, and another one. Junior wing Jared Nickens joined the party next, and Trimble was the last one in.

Considering the team's season, it was an oddity: a span of five field goals, all 3-pointers, to give Maryland a 63-55 lead. In all, the Terps missed just six of their 16 outside shots after halftime, more accurate from beyond the arc (62.5 percent) than inside it (50 percent).

"We started to play better," said Huerter, who said the increased post touches in the second half helped. "And we started hitting shots, which obviously helps."

Entering Baltimore, Maryland had gone a week without a game as it waited out the end of winter-semester exams. At times, it looked as if the Terps were more comfortable holding a textbook or a pen than a basketball. They operated at more than a turnover-a-minute pace in the early going and finished the first half with 13 turnovers and 21 total; Charlotte, not much more sure-handed, had 10 and 17, respectively.

At the same time, the 49ers did not look like a team that had been nearly doubled up by Florida in its 87-46 loss Saturday. Picked to finish eighth in the Conference USA preseason poll, they led for the final 16:24 of the first half.

Early on, the spectacular often turned into the spectacularly unfortunate for Maryland. Senior forward L.G. Gill's would-be tip slam midway through the first half sprung off the back rim as if Chris Davis had smashed it, and the subsequent fast break the other way landed Trimble on the bench with his second personal foul. A pair of free throws pushed Charlotte's lead to eight, and its advantage soon reached double digits, 32-22, on a layup by Davis with 5:47 remaining.

"We've been through this all year, being down at the beginning of every game because of how we approach games," Trimble said.

In other words, the Terps star knew what came next. He combined with Cowan and junior guard Jaylen Brantley for nine of Maryland's next 14 points in a 14-5 run, and Cekovsky's buzzer-beating, over-the-head layup — like a keg toss straight out of the World's Strongest Man competition — cut the lead to 37-36.

"We weren't very good early in the game, but I thought as the game went on, we got a little bit better," Turgeon said. "Finished the half the right way."

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Seeing Cekovsky's improbable make, the crowd cheered as loudly as it had all night during the Terps' 13th trip to Baltimore. Afterward, Turgeon didn't indicate when or whether they'd next return, but the nods to, and quirks of, the locals in attendance were obvious throughout the night.

In the second half, Ernie Graham (Lake Clifton, Dunbar), who set the program's single-game scoring record (44 points) 38 years ago Tuesday, and his son, Jon (Calvert Hall), were honored on the court. And pregame, the "Oh" in "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung a little more lustily than in its usual College Park rendition.

Note: Sophomore guard Dion Wiley missed Tuesday's game with a sprained left wrist. Turgeon also said some players suffered from the flu during the team's layoff.

jshaffer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonas_shaffer

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