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After wake-up call, Maryland looks to be energized in Big Ten tournament opener

The last time Maryland played at Madison Square Garden, the Terps were a week removed from losing at No. 9 North Carolina as the No. 2 team in the country. After dropping to No. 6, Maryland beat Connecticut there in the Jimmy V Classic.

It was early in the 2015-16 season — a mere 2 ½ years ago — and yet it seems like a generation has passed.

When the eighth-seeded Terps walk into the “world’s most famous arena” for Thursday’s second-round game against ninth-seeded Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, they are almost an afterthought.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon called Saturday’s 85-61 home loss to No. 17 Michigan a wake-up call during a Big Ten teleconference Monday, and told reporters Tuesday in College Park that the biggest home loss in his seven years was not a sign that the Terps had given up.

"I thought we were becoming a more complete team,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “I think we’re heading in the right direction. Saturday obviously was more an aberration than anything. I expect us to play well Thursday.”

Turgeon, who took the blame for the embarrassing senior day performance that included being down 30 points at halftime, said his team was a bit too confident coming off its first road win in more than two months and owning a 6-1 record at Xfinity Center before the defeat.

“It kind of woke us up,” Turgeon said Monday. “I think we just took for granted that we were just going to show up and beat Michigan that day because we had been good at home, and we weren’t good that day. It was kind of an eye-opener.”

Turgeon said he used the practices Monday and Tuesday in College Park as he might have early in the preseason, when roles and playing time had yet to be determined. He added that he would like to go deeper, an indication that walk-on Reese Mona might be in the rotation.

“I was just trying to become a deeper team. I was trying to give everybody an equal opportunity and try to treat it like the first day of practice, and that’s what we did,” Turgeon said. “I want everybody to think they have a chance to help us win. It was kind of like starting over.”

Turgeon said the team responded well.

“We fought hard for two days. We’ve really competed,” Turgeon said. “We’ve made everything competition. We haven’t been great all the time, but we’ve really competed. It’s been a really good two days.”

After going into their first three Big Ten tournaments playing for seeding in the NCAA tournament, the Terps need to win four games in four days to get an automatic bid since their chance at a fourth straight at-large invitation is gone.

Asked what it will take to do that, Turgeon said: “Well, we’ve got to play really well all four days. We have to have a lot of different guys step up and catch guys on good days. It’s going to be hard. Now we’re just worried about Wisconsin.”

A win would be the 20th this season for Maryland (19-12, 8-10 Big Ten). While most fans look at the number of wins as mostly the byproduct of a soft early-season schedule, Turgeon sees it as an accomplishment given the team’s injury problems and top-heavy Big Ten schedule.

The Terps, who finished eighth in the conference, played the top seven teams a combined 11 times — winning just once — while playing the bottom six teams seven times without a loss. Maryland beat Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11) in their only meeting, 68-63, Feb. 4 at Xfinity Center.

“Considering what we’ve been through and the [league] schedule we had to play this year, we just want to figure out a way to beat Wisconsin and go from there,” Turgeon said. “Wisconsin’s playing well. We’re playing well. It should be a great game.”

Sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. said the team met Monday with Turgeon before practice to talk about the rest of the season.

“He told us that we still have a lot to play for. He wouldn’t allow anyone to put their head down and just quit,” said Cowan, who was named third-team All-Big Ten on Monday. “He made a good statement, ‘If you quit now, you’re going to quit in life when things get tough.’ ”

A victory over the Badgers won’t be easy. Since going through a five-game losing streak with the final loss at Maryland, Wisconsin finished the season winning four of its last six and nearly beat No. 2 Michigan State in Madison, Wis., on Sunday.

Asked during the Big Ten teleconference whether he views the Badgers differently than he did a couple of weeks ago, Turgeon said: “That’s just the nature of the way it worked. Whether they’re winning a lot of games or losing a lot of games, we would still prepare the same way. We feel like they’re a terrific team, they’ve got a great player [in senior center Ethan Happ] that’s almost impossible to guard because he can score one-on-one. If you double him, he’s got players around him.

“He’s such a good passer. He’s one of the best passers in the league at his size. It doesn’t surprise me what they’re doing. They played well in our building. Knock on wood — if we don’t get hurt between now and then, we didn’t have [Michal Cekovsky] in that game … it gives us another body at least to throw at Happ. We’ve got a lot of respect for them.”

Cowan believes the Terps can play a little looser after the grind of the regular season.

“It’s just basketball now,” Cowan said. “We don’t got to worry about rankings no more. We don’t got to worry about the Big Ten standings. You lose, you go home, so you’ve got to go in with that type of mentality.”

NOTES: Maryland sold about 500 tickets, but more fans are expected to be there with prices as low a $6 on StubHub for Thursday’s afternoon session. … There will be a Maryland alumni event beginning at 9 a.m. on Thursday at Lucy’s Cantina Royale at 1 Pennsylvania Plaza.

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