Fresh off a tough loss at No. 1 Duke and looking ahead to an imposing trip to No. 7 Villanova on Saturday, Maryland desperately needed a victory over lowly Wake Forest Wednesday night.
It wasn’t the prettiest of performances, but the Terps handled the Demon Deacons, 74-55, for their first conference win after starting 0-2 in the ACC for just the eighth time in Gary Williams’ 22 years at Maryland.
Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Cliff Tucker led all scorers with 21 points to counterbalance an off night from Jordan Williams. The senior has reached double-digit scoring in five straight games after being relegated to reserve duties following a loss to Boston College last month.
Williams shot just 2-for-13 and was frustrated by the collapsing Wake Forest zone for much of the night. Ironically, Williams’ strong free-throw shooting (9-for-14) allowed him to record his 10th straight double-double as the big man finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Williams is now only two double-doubles away from the school record of 12 set by Len Elmore in the 1973-74 season.
Maryland (11-5, 1-2 ACC) started slowly in the second half, allowing the Demon Deacons (7-10, 0-2 ACC) to close to within six points at 46-40 with less than 12 minutes to play before the Terps used a 15-0 run to seal the victory.
In a game that often resembled a college intramural game with turnovers and forced shots, it’s hard to take much from a 19-point victory over a team that might struggle to win two or three games in the ACC this season. However, the Terps have to be feeling better about themselves going into a huge non-conference test against Villanova.
The same issues that have plagued the Terps all season reared their head once again at Lawrence Joel Coliseum despite the easy victory. Maryland was just 17-for-33 from the charity stripe despite the unusually strong night from Williams at the line. Poor free-throw shooting left the Demon Deacons in the game far too long before Maryland found a higher gear in the latter portion of the second half.
The problems at the point continued as freshman guard Terrell Stoglin followed up a 1-for-10 night in Durham with a 1-for-9 shooting performance against the Demon Deacons. After being inserted in the starting lineup against Colgate, Stoglin understandably struggled at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but his indecisive play against Wake Forest could spell trouble as the Terps take on an experienced and talented backcourt in Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher on Saturday.
With Tucker’s strong play and Stoglin’s offensive struggles in two ACC starts, you have to wonder if another backcourt shakeup is on the horizon. Backup point guard Pe’Shon Howard had four assists and three steals, but the freshman didn’t exactly establish himself in starts against NJIT and North Florida last year.
The Terps had more than enough against a Wake Forest team struggling to beat anybody at this point, but as Williams said last week, Maryland has to continue getting better as games become more meaningful in the ACC.
Maryland faces another brutal test on Saturday, a final chance to gain that elusive non-conference win to boost its tournament résumé.
As we’ve seen on several occasions, the Terps have played good teams tough — including Sunday’s defeat in Durham.
But they’ll need to be better to upset Villanova.