COLLEGE PARK, Md. — If their NCAA tournament chances were flatlining following back-to-back road losses to Boston College and Virginia Tech, the Terps discovered a pulse, if only a faint one, on Wednesday night.
Five Maryland players reached double-digit scoring, and the Terps held Florida State to just 39 percent shooting in the second half to seize a convincing 78-62 win over the Seminoles, their first win over a top-50 RPI school this season.
It was the type of performance Gary Williams was waiting for all season despite an ominous start to the evening at Comcast Center.
With the “Wall” nearly empty at tip-off (see below) and not filling much more during the game, the veteran coach was clearly displeased with the lack of student support — evident in his post-game comments thanking those in attendance for “not giving up” and pointing out negativity in the student newspaper.
Williams couldn’t have felt much better when the Seminoles sprung out to a 9-2 lead two minutes into the game with all points coming from the sharp-shooting Deividas Dulkys. The opening looked and felt like the disastrous 12-0 start against Virginia Tech last month, a game in which the Terps never found the energy or effort to make it competitive in a 17-point home loss.
Instead of sleepwalking as it did against the Hokies, Maryland awoke from the early lapse to answer Florida State’s high-energy level in what amounted to a frenetic first half before the Terps overwhelmed the Seminoles after intermission, outscoring them, 40-25. Defensively, the Terps (18-10, 7-6 ACC) held Florida State to 39 percent shooting in the second half to complete one of its best all-around performances of the season.
“Guys are getting comfortable with each other,” said Williams, who labeled his team’s man-to-man defense in the second half the finest it had played in awhile. “It takes time. Landon [Milbourne], Eric Hayes and Greivis [Vasquez] were four-year seniors [last year]. Now we’ve got three freshmen out there some of the time. It’s a little different.”
Whether the gelling of this team has come too late remains to be seen, but the Terps took a step toward the postseason bubble — they’re not there yet — with a win over the third-place team in the ACC.
Chris Singleton or not — Florida State was without its leading scorer for the second straight game after the junior broke his right foot against Virginia on Feb. 12 — this was a big one for a Maryland team needing a quality win for both its hollow tournament resume and confidence with March quickly approaching.
Florida State entered the game leading the country in field-goal percentage defense, but Maryland shot 51 percent from the field, becoming only the second team to reach the 50-percent mark against the Seminoles this season. The Terps did it without a dominating performance from Jordan Williams, who still earned his 21st double-double of the year with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
After searching all season for a consistent scoring option behind the sophomore star, freshman Terrell Stoglin turned in a strong 17-point performance — 14 coming in the second half — but was only one of four other Terps (Dino Gregory, Adrian Bowie, and Sean Mosley the others) to contribute double digits to the point total. Maryland also went 7-for-14 from 3-point range after attempting only one shot from beyond the arc in Sunday’s win over North Carolina State.
The balanced effort certainly builds confidence as the Terps are now faced with a trip to Chapel Hill to challenge No. 19 North Carolina on Sunday night. A win over the Tar Heels would propel Maryland back into the NCAA tournament discussion, which is about as much as the Terps can ask for at this stage.
“This [win] definitely builds our confidence,” said Jordan Williams, who passed the 600-rebound mark for his career and joined Joe Smith as only the second Terp to reach the plateau as a sophomore. “North Carolina is a great team with a great coach. We are excited for the challenge.”
A tall challenge it will be as Maryland has a final attempt to beat a top-25 opponent in the regular season. Of course, the Terps have found themselves knocking loudly for a big victory several times this the season.
Only to smash their fingers in the door at the worst possible time.
Though a win seems unlikely, Sunday’s meeting with the Tar Heels is the kind of game Gary Williams has managed to win many times throughout his distinguished career.
Left for dead a little over a week ago, Maryland is suddenly playing like a team that doesn’t want to settle for the NIT.
“We’re a better team now,” Gary Williams said. “I knew it would be a process this year. It takes time to develop a team. I think we’re laying the groundwork here with this year’s team for very good things to happen in the future, but we want to win as many games as we can this year.”
The Terps still have a long way to go to even think about the bubble, their body of work, or their RPI (a modest 85th entering Wednesday night’s game), but they inched a step closer to the discussion with a win over one of the better teams in the conference.
And for now, that’s all Gary Williams and the Terps can do.
An even larger step will be available Sunday night.
NOTES: Maryland is 7-0 against the Seminoles in Comcast Center. … Williams’ double-double left him one shy of the single-season school record set by Len Elmore (22) in 1974. … Stoglin is averaging 19.2 points per game over his last five contests and has made 23 of 24 free throws in his last three games. … Gregory’s 14 points gave him double-digit scoring for the fifth consecutive game. … Five Terps reached double-digit scoring for the fourth time in the last five games. The exception was Sunday’s win over NC State when Maryland had four players in double figures.