With five rotation players 6-foot-8 or taller, Maryland had a significant height advantage on Long Island University Friday night.
But with the Blackbirds yapping at the heels of the Terrapins in the second half, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon went small, turning to a four-guard lineup to pull away from the pesky visitors.
Getting explosive offense off the bench from freshman guard Seth Allen, all-around excellence from sophomore guard Dez Wells, and deft playmaking from junior Pe’Shon Howard, Maryland ran away in the later stages of a 91-74 victory before 12,785 at Comcast Center.
Allen (19 points, four assists) hit 5 of 6 from beyond the arc, including four threes in the final 9:20. Wells (15 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks) did a little bit of everything. And Howard (seven points, 13 assists, seven rebounds, one turnover) orchestrated the equal-opportunity offense that totaled 28 assists on 35 baskets.
“That was a good win. That was a game that I was worried about all summer,” Turgeon said. “We were much better offensively in the second half than we have been all year.”
Allen, Wells, and Howard were on the floor in decisive final seven minutes along with sophomore guard Nick Faust (six points, three assists) and sophomore center Alex Len (18 points, seven rebounds, four blocks). In a span of 2 minutes, 14 seconds, Maryland turned an eight-point lead into 20 with the four-guard set.
“It was situational,” Turgeon said. “It allowed us to switch screens and guard them a little better. Then offensively we were pretty explosive. You might see it with leads quite a bit.”
The way Maryland (2-1) looked with it, Turgeon might use four guards to get leads.
“That lineup really bothered us on the offensive end,” LIU coach Jack Perri said. “That was a key.”
Three turnovers by LIU (0-3) helped fuel the 14-3 run, as Maryland converted each. Howard triggered the rally with a 3-pointer, then fed Allen and Wells for layups, and followed with a pair of free throws. After a 3-pointer by Allen, Howard made a steal and fed Allen for a celebratory dunk that gave the Terps a 91-71 lead with 2:11 to go.
It might have been the best sequence of Howard’s career as he flashed a variety of attributes. He finished two shy of the single-game program record for assists, set by Greivis Vasquez.
“Wish you guys had told me a little earlier,” Howard joked of approaching the mark. “Especially wearing No. 21 (the same number as Vasquez).”
Despite its record and not carrying a player taller than 6-8, LIU (0-3) is a quality, senior-laden team. The Blackbirds have made the NCAA tournament the last two years. On Friday night, 6-7 senior Julian Boyd (22 points, eight rebounds), 6-7 senior Jamal Olasewere (16 points, five rebounds), 6-2 senior Brandon Thompson (16 points, five rebounds), and 6-foot junior Jason Brickman (14 points, 10 assists) kept LIU close.
But in the final minutes, Maryland’s depth showed. Four of the Blackbirds’ starters played at least 33 minutes and they appeared spent when Maryland went to the smaller lineup. The Terps bench out-scored the reserves of the Blackbirds 36-0.
It was a strong all-around offensive performance from Maryland, which shot 56.5 percent from the floor, made 8 of 12 from beyond the arc, and committed just three turnovers in the second half. A 45-33 edge on the boards helped as well.
“As long as we’re guarding and rebounding, the offense will take care of itself,” Howard said.