COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Maryland had just endured a dismal first half, missing 23 of 34 shots and getting no points from its leading scorer, Dez Wells.
And so, with his team down by nine against Notre Dame in a game the Terrapins really needed to win, coach Mark Turgeon surprised his team with an impromptu speech.
“I really didn’t know what to say,” Turgeon said. “But I walked in there and said, ‘I don’t know what I’ve done to you guys, but we’re not playing the way we’re capable of playing. So we’ll make a pact: We’re just going to have fun.’”
Using those words for inspiration, Wells and the Terrapins used a strong second half to pull out a 74-66 victory Wednesday night and climb back over .500 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Wells scored all 17 of his points during the final 20 minutes to help Maryland outscore the Irish 49-32.
“It all starts with me,” Wells said. “Coach pulled me aside and said, `Dez, you’re taking it too seriously. It’s just a game. You’ve got to have fun.”
The junior forward missed all six of his field goal tries and was 0 for 2 from the line before halftime. After that, he went 3 for 4 from the floor and sank all 11 of his free throws.
“We had a pretty good second half, so I’m satisfied,” Wells said.
Seth Allen contributed 14 points in his first start of the season and Nick Faust added 13 to help the Terrapins (11-7, 3-2) end a two-game skid.
“The kind of year it’s been, it just hasn’t gone the way we wanted,” Turgeon said. “There was a lot of pressure; we had to win this game, and I think our guys felt it.”
Asked if the pressure is off, Turgeon replied, “It’s not a relief. It gives me hope that the guys are listening.”
Maryland shot just 39.7 percent and went 7 for 26 from beyond the arc, but that was good enough to hand Notre Dame (10-7, 1-3) its third straight defeat.
Pat Connaughton scored 19 for the Irish, only four after halftime. Notre Dame went 10 for 26 from the floor and committed eight turnovers over the final 20 minutes while giving away a seemingly secure advantage.
“You’re just not going to win a game giving up 20 offensive rebounds and turning the ball over 17 times,” coach Mike Brey said. “Disappointing. We’re struggling a little bit now. We need to get back into a practice rhythm, and see if we can win a league game Sunday (against Virginia Tech).”
After beating Duke to launch its inaugural run through the ACC, Notre Dame has since lost to North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and Maryland.
This one stung, because the Irish were uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball.
“We are usually way better with the ball than that,” guard Eric Atkins said. “We turned over the ball too many times. They capitalized, especially in the paint. They really got the momentum with us turning the ball over.”
The Irish opened the second half by going scoreless for 6½ minutes, but during that time Maryland could muster only four baskets to cut a nine-point deficit to 34-33.
After Garrick Sherman made a layup for the Irish, Maryland center Charles Mitchell scored in the lane and Jake Layman made one of two free throws after Brey was called for a technical foul.
Allen followed with a 3-pointer to give the Terrapins their first lead since 12-11.
It was 43-41 before Evan Smotrycz hit a 3-pointer to spark a 15-7 spurt that pushed Maryland’s advantage to 10 with 5:08 remaining.
Notre Dame closed to 66-61 with 1:46 to go before Faust buried a 3-pointer to clinch it.
“We had one little push left in us and Faust hit a big shot in the corner,” Brey said.
Connaughton scored 15 points and the Irish went 14 for 24 from the field in taking a 34-25 halftime lead.
Maryland made four of its initial five shots, then went 1 for 12 while Notre Dame got 10 straight points from Connaughton during a 17-2 run that made it 21-12.
Faust ended the drought with an alley-oop dunk, but Connaughton followed with a 3-pointer and Sherman scored in the lane to up the margin to 12 points.
Maryland went 11 for 34 from the floor in the first half, including 3 for 16 from beyond the arc. The Terps collected 13 offensive rebounds but only converted two of them into baskets.