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Maryland trying to enjoy NIT

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland is doing its best to relish some postseason basketball, even if it's not where the Terrapins want to be right now.

The Terps (23-12) host Denver tonight in the NIT second round after winning their opener over Niagara Tuesday.

This is the Terrapins' eighth NIT appearance and first postseason trip in three years. Back in 2010, Maryland earned a spot in the NCAA tourney and made it to the second round before falling to Michigan State at the buzzer.

No NCAA spot this year, but the Terps are still playing.

"I think our approach has been great," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after beating Niagara 86-70 and running away from the Purple Eagles in the second half. "If we didn't show up tonight, we'd have lost. But our determination in the second half shows that you that we're pretty determined to get better and move on. I was really worried about our fatigue.

"It's been five games in 10 days, three different cities, grueling, emotional games. It shows you that we're getting mentally tougher to come out and play the way we did tonight."

Denver topped Ohio 61-57 in its NIT opener, led by 14 points and 10 rebounds from sophomore guard Cam Griffin off the bench. The Pioneers (22-9) had a 10-game winning streak snapped March 14 in the Western Athletic Conference quarterfinals despite sharing the WAC regular-season title with a 16-2 record.

Junior Chris Udofia (12.9 ppg) and sophomore Royce O'Neale (11.3) are Denver's scoring leaders, but the Pioneers are one of the nation's worst rebounding teams at 25 per game.

That should benefit Maryland, which grabs 40.9 boards per game and ranks fifth in the country in rebound margin at 8.9.

The Terps have turned to sophomore guards Dez Wells and Nick Faust for offense. Wells leads the team in scoring (13.1 ppg) and has averaged 18.3 points over his last eight games. Meanwhile, Faust has averaged 13.3 over his last nine and posted his first career double-double Tuesday with 15 points and 11 rebounds against Niagara.

"We just want to keep on getting better and try to get ready for the next game," freshman guard Seth Allen said. "We're just taking a game at a time, but we're trying to win every one."

Maryland's NCAA tournament hopes were dashed after losing to North Carolina in the ACC tourney semifinals, but Turgeon said he and his players realized their chances were already slim. Late-season road losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech didn't help, along with losing a 17-point lead at Virginia before falling in overtime in the regular-season finale.

That left the Terps NIT-bound, but their goals remain the same.

"Our tears flowed after North Carolina. We knew it," Turgeon said. "We can go back and talk about all the opportunities at the end of the season that we blew, that we could have gotten into the NCAA tournament. We were one, maybe two games short ... we blew it.

"So before we left the locker room in North Carolina I said, 'Guys, who knows? The basketball gods might shine on us, probably won't. If not, we're in the NIT. We're in it to win it. We're going to try and win the sucker.'"

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