COLLEGE PARK — For much of Maryland's season, the goal very simply was to perform better than in the game before.
Coach Mark Turgeon said victories should be byproducts of playing the game properly, and he discouraged talk of winning and losing among players and coaches.
But as the Terps (15-10, 5-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepared for Saturday's game at No. 22 Virginia (19-6, 6-5), the calculation had shifted. Turgeon is talking more now about the bottom line as the team makes a final push to qualify for postseason play.
Perhaps Turgeon believes his young team is more equipped than it was to handle talk of wins and losses. Perhaps it's because the inexperienced Terps are running out of time to achieve something memorable in a season in which little was expected of them.
"At this point in the year you pretty much know where everybody is in the league, whether they're ahead of you and behind you and all that kind of stuff," Turgeon said Friday. "We've got to finish strong and win some games — and win a road game or two down the stretch — just to be in any postseason play."
Maryland, which has five games left in the regular season, heads to Virginia after a short turnaround. The Terps enjoyed their most one-sided victory of the season Thursday night, beating Boston College, 81-65. The victory came one game after a 17-point loss at Duke in which Maryland played its first ACC game without point guard Pe'Shon Howard, who is out with a season-ending knee injury.
"We were on the bus Saturday night after the [Duke] game and I'm kind of giving a speech," Turgeon said. "I probably said that, 'Hey, there's games that are ahead of us that if we perform well, we've got a chance to win. We could lose all six of them but we could be in every one of them.'"
Virginia is 12-1 at home but has lost three of its last four games. The Cavaliers allow an average of just 52.2 points per game, best in the league, and are led by senior forward Mike Scott, an ACC player of the year candidate who is averaging 16.9 points per game and shooting 59.6 percent.
The Terps are tied with Clemson in the standings, one game behind Virginia and Miami. If the season ended now, Maryland would be the seventh seed in next month's ACC tournament in Atlanta.
An 8-8 regular-season mark is within reach for Maryland — an accomplishment that seemed improbable when the team began the season with just seven members originally recruited as scholarship players and again after Howard tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last week. He will undergo surgery Tuesday.
"When Pe'Shon went down, I think everybody just thought we'd kind of fold our tent — 'Well, let's wait for next year' — but these guys aren't going to do that," Turgeon said.
The coach said his team is motivated to get into the postseason for its two seniors, Sean Mosley (St. Frances) and Berend Weijs. As Mosley's final season winds down, Turgeon said he has been encouraging the player to be a more vocal leader. Mosley, who tends to lead by example, has been increasingly talking to his teammates about the importance of finishing the season well.
Forward James Padgett, who came off the bench to score 15 second-half points Thursday night, said the Terps understand the season will be defined largely by what occurs in the final games.
"Coach said it's the start of a new season, and we don't want it to end when the ACC tournament is over," Padgett said. "We've got to be tough. There's not a lot of basketball left to be played, so you don't want to end your season like that. So get tough, play as hard as you can and go have an aggressive end to the season."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun