BLACKSBURG, Va. --- Mark Turgeon was in a hurry to scoot out of Cassell Coliseum, the dead of night as Thursday turned into Friday soon arriving.
No, there would be no taking away Maryland’s 60-55 victory at Virginia Tech, a grinding affair with fits and starts and generally stout defense from the Terrapins.
For his part, the Maryland coach didn’t seem to want to take the chance.
So the Terps (17-6, 5-5 ACC) skedaddled quickly, a rare road victory in hand as they slipped into the cold night that just as easily could have ended poorly for a team in dire need of triumphs during what on the surface is a softer stretch of conference play.
Only it’s going to be hard for Maryland, difficult to outlast nearly anyone in an uncomfortable environment. But it’s what the Terps managed, making five straight free throws in the final minute to survive the Erick Green Show and the Hokies.
“We did what we had to do to win the game,” Turgeon said. “Controlled most of the second half. They cut it to one when Alex [Len] hit his two free throws but controlled it. Just had trouble making shots. We were getting good looks but just had trouble finishing. It’s never easy when you’re trying to grow up as a team.”
There’s that theme again, one Turgeon returns to time and again. Growing up, it seems, is hard to do. It’s also what is required of Maryland as it attempts to offset its subpar nonconference strength of schedule with an overwhelming display of quantity in the win column.
Stitching together tight victories over the likes of the Hokies (11-11, 2-7) isn’t the most glamorous path to the postseason, and in a not-so-distant era it would be a difficult feat to achieve. Maryland, with its one top-50 victory (N.C. State) and now two road wins (Virginia Tech and Northwestern) to its credit, figures to have limited wiggle room in the five-plus weeks before Selection Sunday.
That’s not to say it can’t be done. Far from it. Maryland has yet to do anything it can seriously regret, but that could change as the likes of Virginia, Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest loom on the schedule. Not one is a top-100 RPI team. Missteps will, for the most part, carry costly consequences.
Perhaps Turgeon sensed that at halftime, the Terps down 27-24 and coming off a meager 15-possession stretch when they managed just three points.
“I said ‘I need men, not pouters. I want men. Guys that pout and feel sorry for themselves are going to watch the NCAA tournament. Teams that have men are going to be in it,’” Turgeon said. “At some point, we have to grow up and be men. They responded. Did we totally grow up tonight? I don’t know. But a step in the right direction.”
That might not sound particularly lofty, but it was about what Maryland could have realistically expected to salvage from this trip. Granted, better foul shooting (10 of 23) would have made the evening measurably easier.
But it wasn’t, and it led a frazzled Turgeon to lash out at the break. Apparently, some of his angst was targeted at sophomore Dez Wells, who hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second half and contained Green (29 points) in Maryland’s nearly pitch-perfect closing defensive stretch.
“I was letting things get to me, like turnovers and stuff like that,” Wells said. “I don’t know. Just turnovers and the fact we weren’t getting into our offense like we should be. Just unforced errors. It’s not fair, but that’s life. Like I said, CEOs are in their 20s, so I have no reason to be pouting right now.”
Neither do the Terps, not after their first conference road victory in precisely a year. They seized the lead for good less than a minute into the second half, maintaining some distance from the limited but scrappy Hokies from that point forward.
Still, there wasn’t much reason to linger. There was a plane to catch, a game Sunday against Virginia to prepare and a victory to savor for its symbolic value as a road triumph more than its utility for a postseason profile.
“It’s a good step for us moving forward,” forward James Padgett said.
Moments later, he and his teammates stepped into the cold night and departed. In a hurry or not, they left with a success that won’t leave them anytime soon.