For the first time in weeks, the Maryland men’s basketball offense had an answer.
After No. 20 Florida splashed a go-ahead three with a little over a minute left, Fatts Russell knifed his way to the rim to convert a three point play of his own — an and-one layup. When the Gators sent back two points to tie, Donta Scott muscled his way to the glass to take the lead for good.
Maryland was in upset territory. The offense was decisive and swift. But turnovers, a looming affliction throughout the season, did enough to make the contest far more heart-pounding than it needed to be.
In spite of a first half laden with miscues, Maryland staved off a .500 record and toppled its first ranked opponent of the season. Interim head coach Danny Manning also claimed his first win at the helm on a 70-68 scoreline.
“Teams don’t become teams until you go through something. And we’ve gone through something,” Manning said.
Maryland was an incredibly improved version of itself. It shot 50% from the field and from three after 20 minutes of basketball. The ball was moving at a rapid pace, finding open targets or players in opportune positions — but it was oftentimes too quick for the Terps to handle.
The 11 turnovers that stunted the Terps effort in the first half were all unique. Two were absent-minded traveling violations, five were poorly timed or ill-advised passing turnovers and the rest were steals resulting from Florida’s pestering defense.
However, aside from the occasional head-scratching failed pass from Russell, who led the team with five turnovers, or the rushed offensive plays that put the ball in the hands of Florida, the Terps’ offense was doing everything it wasn’t in its previous three losses.
Eric Ayala’s shots were falling. After going 3-12 in his last three games from beyond the arc, Ayala hit two of his first three threes. Ayala also led both teams in scoring for the majority of the contest, finishing with 19 points on 54% shooting. At halftime — and at the end of the contest — the box score was not as lopsided as it had typically been throughout the Terps’ recent losing streak, with five players in the rotation with at least four points.
Four of five starters ended the game with at least 10 points.
Florida used a timely closing run to even the score at 33 at halftime. The Gators hit five of their last six attempts from three after starting the game shooting 30% from range. Many of the possessions Florida used to score were granted by the Maryland offense.
But as the turnovers became less of an issue in the early parts of the second half, the Terps began holding more comfortable leads. Because of more sporadic turnovers and two fouled three point attempts, the leads were fleeting but they were enough of a demonstration that Maryland would not bow out easily.
The Terps turned the ball over four times in the final half and scored four more points than they did in the opening period. Russell’s inbound turnover with 5:55 left erased a potential runaway effort and a subsequent three by Florida reduced what was once a game-high seven point lead to just one point.
But the final five minutes that followed featured just one single turnover and the finishing touches of tidy scoring performances from Ayala and Russell, who also ended the game with 19 points. The two had their best shooting outings of the season, with Russell shooting 100% from three (3-3) and Ayala burying a season-best 54% of his shots. The team concluded the game with a 49% mark from the field and 62% from three.
“We had a lot of meetings, you know, heart-to-heart meetings,” Russell said. “Told each other that we’re gonna go for this thing, we’re gonna stay together and we’re gonna fight this out. I felt like today was a step in the right direction.”