COLLEGE PARK — By sending Maryland on the road for its only games this season against Duke and North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Conference created an unbalanced Terps schedule posing more significant challenges away from Comcast Center than at home.
It means that – more than ever – Maryland must win nearly all of its ACC home games, then look to opportunistically pick off some victories on the road. That's always been the calculation for making the NCAA tournament, of course. But home dominance has rarely been more critical than this season because the road slate includes games at Duke and North Carolina (with no corresponding home dates) as well as at Pittsburgh and Florida State.
The Terps began the ACC home schedule just the way they hoped – by handily defeating Georgia Tech. These are the games Maryland has to have. The 77-61 victory was notable for the success Maryland had in getting to the ball into the post. With Georgia Tech missing 6-8 forward Robert Carter Jr. (knee), the Terps sent waves of frontcourt players at the Yellow Jackets. "I think when you combine (Shaq) Cleare and (Charles ) Mitchell, I think it's 14,15 points and 12 or 13 rebounds," Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said.
Maryland's inside success got the defense's attention and created perimeter openings for Nick Faust, who hit his first four 3-point attempts and finished 6-for-8.
"I think everybody in the building was like, 'OK, this is what we expected all year from Maryland,' " Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said.
Faust had been shooting 35 percent before scoring 19 points and 16 points, respectively, in the last two games. "He got his release up higher, that's number one," Turgeon said. "Having one more scorer (Seth Allen) playing takes a lot of pressure off Nick."
Allen returned from a broken foot three games ago.
Maryland had 16 assists on Saturday and just six turnovers – its fewest turnovers since a March 2010 NCAA tournament loss to Michigan State. That's a game that still probably gives former Terps coach Gary Williams night sweats. It ended with a buzzer-beating game-winner by the Spartans' Korie Lucious.
Maryland moved to 2-0 in ACC play on Saturday for the first time since 2002-03. Forward Evan Smotrycz wrote "3-0" on an erasable board – Maryland's record since returning from Christmas break.
"We're getting more confidence, no doubt about it. But we've got to take it on the road now," Turgeon said.
Without the Blue Devils or Tar Heels coming in, the marquee home game is Feb. 24 against undefeated Syracuse.
Consider what comes next: A Pittsburgh team on the road on Monday night. The Panthers, who are 9-0 at home, leads the ACC in scoring margin, assists to turnovers ratio and rebounding margin.
But first things first. After losing nonconference home games to unranked Oregon State and Boston University, the Terps needed to establish themselves again at Comcast Center. Protect this house, and all that. Saturday, they took the first step.