Welcome back to Morning Shootaround, a regular feature the day after Maryland basketball games. We will recap what was said in the news conference afterward by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players. We will give some of our own insight into what transpired on the court during the previous game, and what the Terps will be working on at practice as they look ahead to their next game.
Maryland 58, Alabama 57 at Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala., Tuesday (NIT quarterfinals)
For weeks, Mark Turgeon has talked about his team’s maturation process, of how the Terps had finally grown up after a frustrating two months of inconsistency and, at times, ineptitude. How many of you really thought they had any chance against a team that had not lost at home since Dec. 30?
"To hold on and get it is big," Turgeon said after only his team's third road win this season and fourth since he came to Maryland. "It's hard to win in college basketball and this time of year is really hard. For us to do that, we had a lot of guts. We had a lot of guts defensively and it was good to see. A big game -- a big win."
Whatever Maryland accomplished in beating Duke twice, in reaching the semifinals of the ACC tournament, in winning its first two NIT games, what the Terps did in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night is something they had not done in Turgeon's first two seasons in College Park.
They beat a good team on the road.
Whatever happens in New York next week, Maryland (25-12) can take momentum into the offseason, into the summer, and into next season. By holding on to the beat the Crimson Tide -- and coming oh-so-close to another crushing road loss -- Turgeon's team is still playing.
"Still excited, but unfinished business," said junior guard Pe'Shon Howard. "We want to win a championship. It's just another step. We still have two games, so we can't just be happy to be at Madison Square Garden. We want to win the whole thing."
Making the NIT is a positive step for some teams, and it was a tiny one for the Terps. Beating Denver in the second round by coming from nine down with five guards was a little bigger step. Getting to Madison Square Garden for a tournament that used to be a big deal is even bigger.
Garden party for Len?
Alex Len started his sophomore year with a breakthrough performance at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., a 23-point, 12-rebound, four-block game in a three-point loss to then defending national champion Kentucky.
While the outcome of that game turned out to be less impressive given the Wildcats’ struggles this season, the 7-foot-1 center from the Ukraine still did it against Nerlens Noel, a 7-foot freshman who was projected to be the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft until tearing his anterior cruciate ligament this season.
Despite an erratic season in which he disappeared for games -- if not weeks -- at a time, Len is still believed to be a top 10 draft choice and a sure-fire lottery pick. A couple of big games to end the season on a stage like Madison Square Garden could put him into the Top 5.
Len is still frustrating to watch, let alone coach -- dominant one moment, dormant the next. Though he gave Alabama a chance to win the game on its last possession by blowing a pair of free throws in the waning seconds, he certainly did enough to help the Terps beat the Tide.
“This is a big win for our program and I'm excited to go play in Madison Square Garden, the best arena in the world,” said Len, who led the Terps with 15 points and 13 rebounds. “We're looking forward to it. ... We played tough, we played strong. I think it's our best win on the road this season.”
Allen makes contribution
Seth Allen sat with his broken hand in a sling, but the precocious freshman guard made a contribution by encouraging Howard to take some shots.
It started a few hours before the game at the shootaround, where Allen told Howard he couldn’t leave until he hit five outside shots in a row.
Allen, along with fellow freshman Charles Mitchell, kept telling Howard to shoot during the game.
Howard’s 3-pointer against Alabama to give Maryland a 51-47 lead with 4:47 left might have been the biggest basket of the game and one of the biggest of the season. It was also surprising considering the source, since it was his first in more than a month -- and only his second in the last 11 games.
As is his nature, Howard called his rare triple a bit of “luck” and said he shot it mainly to shut Allen up.
“Really what I was thinking when I shot it was, I just heard little Seth here saying ‘shoot it, shoot it.’ I just need him to be quiet, so I’m just going to put it up. I consider it luck.”
Howard said the Terps missed having Allen coming off the bench.
“I could have used him,” Howard said. “Just having another threat offensively. He would have done great with that pressure. He’s so fast, he can get in that lane when they double guys. He would have gotten a lot of shots up. He would have done great in this game. We’re happy we won, but we definitely missed him.”
Shortening rotation has helped Turgeon
What has also made a difference the past few games is Turgeon finally going to a shorter rotation, eliminating those mass and frequent substitutions that often seemed to work against the Terps for most of the past three months.
The season-ending injury to Allen, sustained in practice Sunday in College Park, might have cost the Terps down the stretch had freshman Jake Layman not come up so big with his back-to-back 3s. I’m not sure Allen would have handled the full-court pressure any better than Dez Wells, Nick Faust and Howard did.
Mitchell helped give the Terps an early lead on the road, but the second half was essentially Len and four perimeter players. Given how little he has played of late, it was probably too much to expect anything from freshman Shaquille Cleare when he came in after Len picked up his fourth personal foul.
”We knew if we lost, we were done. If we won, we didn’t play for a week,” Turgeon said. “So we played guys a lot of minutes, especially in that second half. I thought we stayed pretty fresh throughout the game.”
You know the Terps will be rooting Wednesday night for Virginia to beat Iowa in Charlottesville to set up an all-ACC semifinal in New York. That’s not so much for rooting for your fellow league member as it is for the Terps to get a chance to redeem themselves for two of their most distasteful defeats this season, one when Maryland came out flat at Comcast Center after beating Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and lost by 12 and then blew a 17-point first-half lead to the Cavaliers before losing by three in overtime in the regular-season finale.
Connor Letourneau contributed to this article.