Dez Wells scored 19 points for the Terrapins, who closed with a 23-4 run after trailing 48-39 with 9:15 left.
“Our kids battled. We didn’t want the season to end,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “Our big lineup couldn’t guard them so we went small. We went five guards.”
Wells fueled the surge with nine points. It was the sixth game in 12 days for the Terrapins (24-12), who won’t play again until next week against either Alabama or Stanford.
“We’re gassed,” Turgeon said. “Our guys just had guts. That’s a really good win for us after what we’ve been through.”
Chris Udofia scored 24 for the Pioneers (22-10), including 19 during a first half that featured three ties and 12 lead changes. But he got his third foul with 17:55 left and fourth with 8:37 to go.
“Obviously, foul trouble on Udofia was a key factor for us,” Pioneers coach Joe Scott said. “But they made the plays they had to make, they made the foul shots, and we didn’t.”
Seeking its 12th win in 13 games, Denver appeared poised for an upset as the second half wore on. It was 33-all before Marcus Byrd drilled a 3-pointer to spark a 15-6 spree that included a three-point play and a 3-pointer by Brett Olsen.
And then Maryland began its comeback with 7-foot-1 Alex Len and 6-8 James Padgett on the bench.
“We were desperate,” Turgeon said. “We couldn’t guard them. They had complete control of the game and our post guys couldn’t score against them. So we tried to spread them out, try to drive on them and get to the foul line.”
Maryland used five straight free throws to launch the decisive run. A runner by Seth Allen put the Terrapins up 51-50 with 4:09 remaining, the first time they led after halftime.
Turgeon was pressed to remember the last time he used a lineup of five guards for that long.
“I coached a JV team at Kansas where my power forward was 6-2 and sometimes he played center,” Turgeon said. “I’m sure we did it there.”
Despite the loss, Scott believed his team benefited from its two-game run in the NIT.
“The future is bright,” he said, “and this type of experience is the thing that can get you going in the direction you want to go.”