EVANSTON, Ill. -- The alarm went off, and Maryland didn't hit the snooze button. Mark Turgeon's message got through to his team.
The Terrapins were wide awake Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena against a Northwestern team that came in having matched its best-ever start (13-1). Maryland started with ferocious defense and then got its multi-pronged attack going in a 72-59 victory.
Four days earlier, the fourth-ranked Terrapins had opened Big Ten play looking nothing like a league title contender and a Final Four hopeful. They trailed Penn State for most of Wednesday's game before rallying behind center Diamond Stone, who delivered 39 points, the most ever by a Maryland freshman. They didn't defend particularly well, and star guard Melo Trimble had a poor shooting night (3-of-15). They won, but no one was happy about it, especially Turgeon.
"We’ll know Saturday night when we're at Northwestern what we're all about,” Turgeon said. "Hopefully, we’ll take it as a wake-up call."
Here's how it all went down:
Terps turn up heat from tipoff: Maryland entered the game playing decent, but not spectacular, defense. The Terrapins were fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed, sixth in steals and 10th in turnovers forced. But they pressured Northwestern from the onset, extending their defense with Rasheed Sulaimon, Trimble, Robert Carter Jr. and others, and immediately flustered the Wildcats' ball-handlers.
Northwestern had as many turnovers (6) as points before Tre Demps hit a 3-pointer with 11:22 left in the first half. The Wildcats finished with eight giveaways and just 20 points, their fewest in a half this season. The pressure continued early in the second half as it forced a five-second violation following a Trimble 3-pointer.
Maryland held Northwestern 21 points below its season average. The Wildcats came in shooting 39.1 percent from 3-point range but made just 2-of-20 attempts.
Saturday's game should be a good reference point for Maryland down the line. The offense won't always be there, but active defense can be a foundational element to at least buy shooters like Trimble some time.
Sulaimon the magnificent: Sulaimon, the Duke transfer, responded from the worst performance in his brief Terrapins career with one of his best. After finishing with one point on 0-of-5 shooting in 35 minutes against Penn State, Sulaimon drilled his first five shots Saturday to pace Maryland's big first half. When Northwestern cut its deficit to 14 points, Sulaimon buried a 3-pointer with 9:20 to play that killed any comeback chances.
He finished with 16 points, six rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block in 34 minutes.
This is Trimble's team and Maryland has other scoring options in Stone, Carter and Layman, but consistent production from Sulaimon is vital for the Terrapins to achieve their lofty goals. It doesn't have to be scoring, as Sulaimon's defense against Northwestern's talented guards helped set the tone Saturday.
Northwestern needed a reality check: The Wildcats came in feeling good after a strong non-league showing and Wednesday's come-from-behind road win against Nebraska. But they built their record on mostly weak competition (their lone loss before Saturday had come against No. 7 North Carolina). They needed to be pushed by a great team, and Maryland pushed them around in the first half.
The good news is Northwestern pushed back in the second half, increasing its defensive intensity, limiting its turnovers and hitting some tough shots. Standout guard Bryant McIntosh reclaimed some command and center Joey van Zegeren, starting for the injured Alex Olah, had eight points on 3-of-3 shooting. No one expected freshman Dererk Pardon to replicate what he did at Nebraska, but the freshman continued to look active in the low post (eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and six rebounds).
Northwestern has the pieces to make a postseason run, perhaps even its first NCAA tournament run, when Olah returns from injury. The upcoming schedule is favorable -- Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State -- before a reunion with Maryland on Jan. 19 in College Park. Maryland showed Northwestern how hard it needs to play -- a tough lesson for the Wildcats but one better learned Jan. 2 than March 2.