If college basketball games were 10 minutes long, the Maryland men’s hoops team would be 2-3.
The Terps would have lost to Rhode Island in convincing fashion Nov. 9. They would have come up short against Oakland Nov. 16. And they would have watched another contest slip away against George Mason Nov. 22, with the Patriots closing on a 7-0 run to win 18-13.
But college basketball games last 40 minutes, and Maryland, ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll, is 5-0. Every win has been by at least 18 points, with an average margin of 22.8.
Before racing past George Mason for an 86-63 win at Xfinity Center, Mark Turgeon’s team once again took a long while to find its rhythm. The Terps started 5-of-17 from the floor, while the Patriots were 8-of-13 during that stretch. Maryland trailed 20-13 at the 9:29 mark and was still down five with 5:41 remaining.
“We weren’t mentally ready,” Turgeon said after the game. “We were making mental mistakes the first 12 minutes of the game to allow them to keep the lead. … But the last 28 minutes, we were really, really good.”
All it takes is one big run for Maryland to leave an overmatched opponent in the dust. In this case, it was a 19-2 burst in the final 5:41 of the first half that turned a 29-24 deficit into a 43-31 lead at the break. The Terps hit six of their eight shots in this stretch, including threes by senior Anthony Cowan Jr. and sophomore Aaron Wiggins. Maryland led by eight or more points throughout the second half, and the margin was in double digits for the last 12:21.
By the end of the night, Cowan had a team-high 16 points, while Wiggins chipped in 15. Sophomore Jalen Smith tossed up another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds despite shooting just 3-of-5 from the floor. Maryland as a team was a season-worst 25-of-62 from the field and once again struggled from long range (6-of-22), but went to the foul line 38 times and connected on 30 free throws (78.9 percent).
The second half provided perhaps the Terps’ best defensive performance all season. George Mason shot just 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) in the period, with nearly every shot contested along the way, and turned it over seven times. Maryland continued to mix up defenses, unleashing the 1-3-1 zone in the first half to help turn the tide and maintaining an aggressive approach all the way down the stretch.
The final box score shows a dominant performance. But questions linger about those first few minutes. “We still haven’t played a full game or even a full half,” Cowan said. “We’ve just gotta get better.”
A good 28 minutes, as Turgeon put it, was enough to handle a George Mason team that had started the season 5-0. It’s been enough against a schedule ranked 302nd nationally in difficulty, per KenPom, a college hoops analytics site. But it probably won’t be enough next week at the Orlando Invitational, where Maryland opens against Temple and could face Power 5 opponents in the following two rounds. It’s possible, though, that a change of scenery could help the Terps focus from the opening tip.
“Am I concerned [about the slow starts]? Yeah,” Turgeon said. “But I think if our guys just lock in — maybe it’ll take getting away from Xfinity Center, going down to Orlando, being challenged in a different way, not having a home crowd — I think we can really grow up a lot.”
1. Freshman center Makhi Mitchell didn’t enter this game until the second half; for the first time all year, he checked in after twin brother Makhel (who finished scoreless in seven minutes). After the break, though, Makhi tallied 12 points and seven rebounds in just nine second-half minutes. He went 2-of-5 from the field but had a magnetic relationship with the free-throw line, sinking eight of his 12 foul shots.
2. As Maryland’s bench rotation shuffles, it’s clear that Hakim Hart’s stock is rising. After not appearing against Rhode Island and checking in late against Oakland, he’s seen much earlier action in each of the last two games. The freshman wing checked in with 13:45 remaining in the first half of this game, and although he shot just 1-for-5, he still played at least 10 minutes for the third consecutive game.
3. The loudest roar of the night wasn’t for a play on the court. It was for Charlie Gaines, a graduate student who was tasked with making a layup, free throw, 3-pointer and half-court shot in 30 seconds. He checked off the first two boxes quickly and made his second attempt from downtown, giving him one half-court shot for $500. He waved his arms to pump up the crowd. And then he swished it.
Onions. Theatrics. A check on the way. And a memory for life.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox