COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Nick Faust had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Maryland used a strong second half to defeat Niagara 86-70 Tuesday night in the opening round of the NIT.
Tied at halftime, the Terrapins (23-12) used a 21-2 run to take a 56-38 lead before coasting to the finish. Second-seed Maryland next hosts Denver at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Terrapins would have preferred their first postseason appearance since 2010 be in the NCAA tournament, but that doesn’t mean they’re not motivated to win the NIT.
“Our approach has been great. If we didn’t show up tonight we would have lost,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “Our play in the second half shows you that we’re pretty determined to get better and move on.”
After sinking a free throw to begin the second half, Niagara missed nine straight field goal tries and went 1 for 16 from the floor while Maryland got seven points from Seth Allen and five from Faust during scoring sprees of 12-0 and 9-0.
“I think the difference in the second half is that we came out with a lot more energy and got a lot of stops defensively,” Allen said. “We start running in transition, and that really helped us.”
Five Terrapins scored in double figures, including Allen and Logan Aronhalt with 15 apiece.
“A lot of teams aren’t fortunate enough to play in the postseason, so we just look at this as a good experience,” Allen said.
Maryland next plays on Thursday, and Turgeon has a feeling the players can’t wait.
“We’re determined on just becoming a better basketball team,” he said. “We’ve got guys growing up, finally. They realize how hard you have to work. They’ve had success and they feel good about it. Has our program turned a corner? Yeah, I think it has.”
Antoine Mason led Niagara (19-14) with 24 points and Ameen Tanksley had 18. The Purple Eagles led 29-23 before halftime, but Maryland used a 10-0 run to help forge a 35-35 tie at halftime.
“I thought we had these guys back on their heels a little bit. I thought we had a chance in the first half,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. “Then it was dunk, layup, dunk, tie game. And that was just what they needed to remind them how good they are, that they beat Duke twice. They got a little of that mojo going.”
Maryland’s depth was also a factor. The Terrapins got 42 points from their bench.
“We wore them down,” Turgeon said.
The game drew a crowd of 4,053, a season-low at Maryland.
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