A constant theme for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon when talking about his team this season has been its collective lack of mental toughness, particularly on the road. It had contributed to several losses, most recently at Boston College and Georgia Tech.
Which is why Saturday’s 67-57 win at Wake Forest was pretty surprising. The Terps didn’t beat a great team -- maybe not even a good one -- but they hung together despite a huge discrepancy in foul calls and the fact that Turgeon had to sit Alex Len and Dez Wells when each picked up his third foul in the opening minute of the second half.
“I think it was as mentally tough as we’ve been on the road this year,” Turgeon said on Monday’s Atlantic Coast Conference coaches’ teleconference. “We were pretty tough early at Northwestern, but the game kind of flowed for us. But to overcome what we’ve overcome, we weren’t very good on the road and to get into foul trouble we were in and then keep plugging...”
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Much of Maryland’s ability to overcome the foul trouble was the result of Wake Forest’s inability to stop Wells, who finished with a game-high 23 points. Wells made several big plays after Turgeon put him -- as well as Len -- back in the game after the Demon Deacons had erased Maryland’s lead, which was six points at halftime and eight early in the second half.
But Turgeon also attributed it to a “not so fun film session” Thursday after the Georgia Tech game followed by what the second-year Maryland coach called a “good practice” Friday. Unlike past road trips, the Terps went straight from Atlanta to Winston-Salem, N.C. rather than return to campus for a little more than a day.
“I think it was a mindset going in with our guys. They decided, ‘Hey, time for us to grow up and start winning on the road,’ or at least play with a little toughness on the road,” Turgeon said Monday. “They had to do it. We were pretty good offensively, if you take away the turnovers. We tend to do that. We fought through the turnovers. We fought through the foul trouble and got it done.”
Whether the Terps can maintain that focus could determine whether they have any chance of playing in the postseason. North Carolina comes to College Park on Wednesday night and Maryland goes to Virginia to close out the regular season Sunday.
Winning both games could get Turgeon’s team back on the bubble going into the ACC tournament next week in Greensboro, N.C.