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Terps are on their guard in NIT win over Niagara

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Backcourt takes over in win over Niagara

Last weekend in Greensboro, Maryland played like it belonged in the NCAA tournament, not the NIT.

Tuesday night in College Park in its NIT opener, it took the Terrapins 20 minutes to rediscover what they found down south. When they did, visiting Niagara of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference had little chance.

Hitting the Purple Eagles with a furious blitz after intermission, the Terrapins rolled to a 86-70 victory before the smallest crowd in Comcast Center history, 4,053, which nonetheless filled the empty arena with noise.

The students were away for spring break, but the Maryland guards showed up, especially sophomore Nick Faust (15 points, 11 rebounds), who had the first double-double of his career. Backcourt partners Seth Allen (15 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals) and Dez Wells (12 points, five rebounds) supplied firepower along with senior Logan Aronhalt (15 points), who went 5-for-7 from beyond the arc, and Pe'Shon Howard (six assists, one turnover), who guided the offense and led the defense.

"We're playing off each other good," Allen said of the Terps growing backcourt chemistry. "In the game, we don't even have one point guard. Anybody can bring the ball up. We're all interchangeable."

It was more of the loose, inspired work Maryland (23-12) showed in the ACC tournament. With the win, the Terps advanced to a Thursday matchup at home with the winner of Tuesday's late game between Denver and Ohio.

"Has our program turned a corner?" Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "Yeah, I think it's turned a corner."

A 21-3 run, fueled by a full-court press which forced five turnovers in the first seven minutes of the second half, allowed Maryland to take control after it emerged from the locker room tied at 35-all. Allen opened the spurt with a 3-pointer and added a backcourt steal and layup. Faust had a put-back of his own free throw miss and Aronhalt drained a 3-pointer.

"Start of the second half we were great," Turgeon said. "Press was good to us. Our half-court defense was good. Alex [Len] did a great job protecting the rim."

After falling behind by seven points early, Niagara (19-14) retaliated behind Antoine Mason (24 points) and Ameen Tanksley (18 points, seven rebounds). The Purple Eagles took a 29-23 lead before Wells and Faust made dunks to steady the Terps.

"Real quick it was dunk, layup, dunk. That was just what they needed to remind them how good they are and that they beat Duke twice," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "They've got McDonalds All-Americans. We've got kids who eat at McDonalds."

Maryland's depth was key as its bench out-scored Niagara 42-14. The Terps showed no ill effects of three elimination games in three days in the ACC tournament.

"I was really worried about our fatigue," Turgeon said. "Five games in 10 days, three different cities, grueling, emotional games. It's tough. It shows you we're getting mentally tough to come out and play the way we did tonight."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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