Down 11 points with less than six minutes remaining, the Terrapins men's basketball team was face-to-face with the harsh realities of Big Ten play Wednesday night. Things weren't supposed to go this way in the Terps' conference opener and they had been going this way all night. They needed a star to emerge in order to avoid suffering a major upset.
So they gave the ball to a freshman. And then they gave it to him again, and again and again. When it was all over, the No. 4 Terps had come back to win 70-64 and center Diamond Stone had scored 39 points and collected 12 rebounds before a sellout crowd at Xfinity Center.
Stone came off the bench and finished 10-for-15 from the field and 19-for-25 from the line. His 39 points is the new single-game record for a Terps freshman — Joe Smith had held the previous record since 1993 with 33 — and is tied for the eighth most in school history.
"I knew I was in the zone, but I didn't know about the points," Stone said. "I just wanted to win."
After the clock had run out and the furious rally was complete, the same home crowd that had groaned as the team ran into the locker room down by eight at halftime was chanting one word over and over.
"Diamond, Diamond, Diamond," they cheered.
Stone's record-setting night overshadowed a first half that was arguably the Terps' worst offensive showing of the year. The Terps (12-1, 1-0 Big Ten) shot 25 percent from the floor and went into the locker room down 31-23, their largest halftime deficit of the season.
"Sometimes everybody takes for granted we're going to win, but it's not that way in college basketball," Coach Mark Turgeon said. "But when you come back and win games like that, it gives you a lot of confidence."
The Terps had to overcome a woeful shooting night to mount the second-half rally.
After opening the game with back-to-back threes, the team went 0-for-15 from behind the arc for a stretch and finished at 23.8 percent from deep.
Star guard Melo Trimble was a major part of the shooting struggles, going 3-for-15 for 10 points. But Turgeon pointed to the sophomore as a key part to the late surge.
"He totally dictated the game in the second half," Turgeon said. "Diamond had 39, but Melo had a lot to do with that."
Forwards Robert Carter Jr. and Jake Layman also made key contributions despite tough statlines. Carter helped get Stone going early with some nice interior passing and hit a big 3-pointer with 30 seconds left. Some early buckets from Layman kept the Terps in it and he sealed the game with an emphatic block that sent Xfinity into a frenzy.
"We made shots when it counted," Carter said. "That's what it's all about, figuring out a way to win."
Still, the Terps struggled to keep the Nittany Lions (9-5, 0-1) from getting good looks down low even with a size advantage. Penn State outscored the Terps, 32-26, in the paint despite Stone's career night.
After the game had ended and the Terps entered the locker room, Stone remained on the court to do postgame interviews. As he finished and began walking to the exit, the remaining crowd realized the star of the night was still in their midst and stood to applause him.
It was the kind of moment meant to be savored, spotlight fixed firmly on one person alone. But the freshman didn't stop to enjoy it. He didn't even slow down. Instead, as the cheers rained down, he jogged into the darkness of the hallway toward the locker room where his team was waiting.
After all, Wednesday night was only the beginning of Big Ten play.