Coaches are fond of saying that one game is no bigger than another. I don't always believe them. Mark Turgeon conceded tonight what seemed to be true -- that Maryland's win over Wake Forest meant a lot.
It wasn't just that it was Maryland's first conference win of the season. It's that if this season is to matter -- if it is to become something -- then the Terps have to begin to define who they are. And when better to do that than in the first ACC contest at Comcast Center?
As I said in my updated game story, Turgeon believes his team is playing better – particularly defensively – than earlier in the season and he wants his players' efforts to be validated. He wants them to develop some swagger. He wants them to enter games believing in themselves.
Say this for Maryland: it has lost plenty of leads this season but has generally pulled itself together in time to capture wins.
The recovery -- like a tightrope walker regaining his balance -- happened again against Wake Forest. Maryland survived largely because it hit the boards and got to the free-throw line.
"Tonight, we did it with second-chance points and we got to the foul line, and that's a good formula to win," Turgeon said.
Of course, you can't ignore Maryland's second-half swoon. The Demon Deacons chipped an 18-point margin to three at 50-47.
"There was no flow to the game -– foul, foul, foul, foul," Turgeon said of the second half. "They [the Demon Deacons] did a great job driving the ball."
But the Terps recovered. In so doing, they answered the question: Can Maryland win when leading scorer Terrell Stoglin has an off night? Stoglin had 20 points but shot just 6-for-18.
The answer tonight was "yes," thanks to defense and rebounding, which are largely about effort. Maryland built its lead by holding Wake to 34.5 percent shooting in the first half. The Terps out-rebounded the Deacons 45-37 overall. I think the key was the 21 offensive boards -- six each by James Padgett and a rejuvenated Ashton Pankey.
"It's all about rebounding," said Travis McKie, who led Wake with 25 points. "They had the second-chance opportunities."