Small lineup jolts Maryland to NIT win
Maryland didn't want its season to end this way: In a mostly empty Comcast Center, playing a height-challenged team from the lowly Western Athletic Conference which was running the infuriating Princeton offense.
So down midway through the second half, the Terrapins made it a fair fight, employing five guards for the first time this year.
In a game it looked destined to lose, Maryland scored on its final nine possessions to rally past Denver 62-52 before the smallest crowd in Comcast Center history: 3,982.
Working the low post, sophomore Dez Wells (19 points, four rebounds) scored nine of his points in the final eight minutes. Sophomore Nick Faust (12 points, six rebounds, three steals) and freshman Seth Allen (13 points) were catalysts as well as Maryland (24-12) overcame a nine-point second half deficit and rolled to the NIT quarterfinals. The second-seeded Terrapins will either travel to No. 1 Alabama or host No. 4 Stanford on Tuesday.
"Our kids really battled," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "Our big lineup couldn't guard them."
With Maryland students on break and the NCAA tournament in full swing, there was a distracted atmosphere in the arena and the Terps were a step behind the backdoor-cutting Pioneers (22-10). But with 10:11 left, Turgeon replaced James Padgett with Jake Layman. After that, no frontcourt players made it back to the floor. Turgeon said he had never practiced the five-guard lineup.
"He just said spread the floor, attack, do some circle cuts, but basically just play," Allen said.
One of the adjustments Turgeon made on the fly was to put Wells on the low block. With 5:18 left and Maryland down 50-44, Wells scored a 3-point play to ignite the final 18-2 surge, which included an improbable banked 3-pointer by freshman Layman, and four more grinding points by Wells.
When times are tough, the Terps have often turned to the transfer from Xavier, who has played everywhere on the floor from point guard to the low post.
"I'll be a cheerleader if it will get us the win," Wells said.