This one had all the makings of a second straight blowout defeat for the Maryland men's basketball team at home, a game that seemingly had enough ingredients for another distasteful recipe to give coach Mark Turgeon, his players and their fans a collective case of indigestion.
Seemingly on the verge of wiping out all the positive vibes that resulted from a 7-0 start in a matter of days, the Terps did what they have done for most of the season — coming back from a double-digit second-half deficit to beat Oklahoma State, 71-70, on Saturday night at Xfinity Center.
“This group of mine, it’s amazing what they do,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “We’ve got all these young kids playing and we keep battling. We’re down 12 [with 12:11 to go] and they’ve got a great point guard. And we kept coming. Everybody in our circle, on our team, knew we were going to win the game.”
Maryland (8-1) took the lead on a pair of free throws by junior point guard Melo Trimble with 9.4 seconds left, and escaped with the victory after sophomore guard Jawun Evans' tip-in attempt of his own missed baseline runner with a second left was ruled to have been taken after the final buzzer.
“It’s kind of been status quo for the Terps here — fall behind, come back. Give them a lot of credit. Very well-coached and they’ve got a great player who's continually made plays over and over,” said first-year Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood.
Joked Trimble, who led the Terps with 13 points and six assists, “I think we just like to have the games close and have everyone worried, so they can stay tuned to our games.”
It set off another wild on-court celebration for the Terps, similar to the one Maryland had last month after beating Georgetown by a point Nov. 15 at the Verizon Center and a one-point win over Kansas State in the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic a week ago in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Asked what it’s like to be in those situations, Trimble added, “It’s nerve-wracking for any team. Normally we practice that. But almost every game this year has been a nailbiter for us. It’s good for us to go through this right now because the further you get [in the NCAA tournament] the closer they are.”
Trimble also scored the game-winning points with a pair of free throws to beat the Hoyas and a driving layup in the closing seconds to beat the Wildcats. In this case, too, Underwood and the Cowboys knew exactly who was getting the ball and what he was going to try to do.
“I didn’t expect him to shoot a jump shot,” Underwood said of Trimble, who had missed eight of 12 shots, including all five of his 3-pointers. "We were sitting in a zone. Good play, set a little double-screen, we had our bigs step up. Got fouled. It wasn’t going to be in anybody else’s hands and it wasn’t where I expected him to pass it. A lot of credit to Melo and Mark put him in a good spot to make the play.”
On Saturday, Oklahoma State (6-2) had built its lead by hitting several tough 3-pointers with the shot clock about to expire, including one by redshirt junior wing Jeffrey Carroll to give the Cowboys a 58-48 lead. A pair of free throws by senior guard Phil Forte III had pushed the advantage to 12.
Turgeon said that it wasn't difficult forgetting Tuesday’s 73-59 loss to Pittsburgh by the way the Cowboys had taken control of the game.
“The hard part was the shot clock going down and hitting the 3's. [They] hit one in the first half, Forte on the fade on the inbounds pass which we knew was coming. He just made a tough shot,” Turgeon said. “That was the hard part, just staying positive.”
Helped by an announced crowd of 17,391 — the biggest crowd of the season — that was decked out mostly in black, the Terps stormed back behind a pair of unlikely heroes. The comeback, which began with Trimble on the bench, was led by junior guard Jaylen Brantley and senior center Damonte Dodd, who helped fuel a 13-0 run.
Brantley, who transferred in from junior college last season and struggled mightily with his confidence, finished with 12 points. Dodd, who missed a couple of games earlier this season with a concussion, also scored 12, to go along with eight rebounds and three blocks.
Evans, who came in as the nation’s leading scorer at just under 25 points a game, scored 16 to lead the Cowboys.
It marked the fifth time this season that the Terps had come from behind to win in the second half, the fourth time after falling behind by double digits. In his 19 seasons as a Division I coach, Turgeon has never had a team do that, including the one two years ago that made a habit of winning close games.
“It’s rare, but it’s what we do,” Turgeon said. “When you look back, we win close games. What’s rare about it is there’s three freshmen out there almost the whole game. How many people are playing three freshmen 30 minutes a game and are 8-1? I’m really proud of this group. It’s amazing what they keep doing.”
Still, Turgeon is aware that the competition is going to get tougher once Big Ten Conference play begins later this month, and the kind of comebacks the Terps have made all season aren't going to be as successful as the ones they have made several times, including Saturday.
“It’s not easy for us, we’ve got to get a lot better,” Turgeon said. “But we kept figuring out how to win. We’re going to gain a lot of confidence from this because that team had a point guard that can control the whole game, like we do with Melo and we’re still able to figure out a way to win.”
Notes: Redshirt sophomore forward Ivan Bender did not play because of a bone bruise in his left leg suffered against Pittsburgh. ... The Terps play another 9 p.m. game Wednesday against Howard.