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As they prepare for Purdue, No. 11 Terps embrace life on the road in unfamiliar Big Ten

As they prepare for Purdue, No. 11 Terps embrace life on the road in unfamiliar Big Ten
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon calls out to his team from the sideline during the first half of the Terps' game Thursday against Illinois. (Heather Coit / Associated Press)

The Maryland men's basketball team was collectively clueless about where it was Friday morning as the bus taking the Terps from their hotel to practice here at 47-year-old Mackey Arena rolled onto John R. Wooden Drive.

Even Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who grew up with a deep passion for the game and its history, said later that he "didn't notice" being on a street named for the legendary UCLA coach, who was a star player at Purdue in the 1930s.

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Just another day on the road — another bitterly cold one at that — in the Big Ten Conference for the No. 11 Terps, one of two league newbies.

What was more on Turgeon's mind was putting Wednesday's disappointing 64-57 defeat at Illinois in the team's rearview mirror, particularly a second half in which Maryland (14-2, 2-1) was badly outplayed by an undermanned, undersized opponent.

The Terps know Saturday's game against Purdue (10-5, 2-1) will be a lot different in terms of both the team they face and the approach they need to take.

The Boilermakers, coming off a down-to the-wire 64-57 defeat at No. 4 Wisconsin on Wednesday, are big, tough and physical inside with 7-footers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. They are also skilled on the perimeter with sophomore shooting guard Kendall Stephens, freshman forward Vince Edwards and senior Jon Octeus at point guard.

Asked whether his team came to practice with a chip on its shoulder, Turgeon said: "I hope so. Tomorrow at 2:30's what matters, that we have a chip on our shoulder and we play a little bit harder, compete a little bit better than we did.

"I don't want to take anything away from Illinois. I thought they played great. [Malcolm] Hill was fantastic [scoring a career-high 28 points in the absence of injured star Rayvonte Rice]. We got to be us, and we weren't us the other night."

That was especially true of senior guard Dez Wells, who had one of his worst games since coming to Maryland as a sophomore. He finished with a season-low six points on 2-for-8 shooting, with just two rebounds and an assist. In 27 minutes, he alternated between tentative and out of control.

"He's not Dez yet," Turgeon said of Wells, who missed a month earlier this season with a fractured wrist. "We need to get the Dez back [from last season], the tough Dez, the bully Dez. Hopefully, we'll get him back tomorrow."

Wells showed some of that at practice Friday, driving hard to the basket and finishing at the rim, displaying high energy even when the action on the court stopped.

As is his nature, Wells seemed supremely confident that he could put one of his worst games as a Terp behind him, and that the team can do the same with its worst performance of this turnaround season.

"We had a great practice. Everybody's in great spirits. What we had to realize is that it's just one game and we just have to take it as that," Wells said. "Illinois played a really, really good game, and our hat goes off to them, because they came prepared to play and we didn't come ready to play that day."

The Big Ten has been something of a novelty for the Terps, especially on the road. It might be to Maryland's benefit that there's no heated history with opposing teams, or even fans, as there was in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"We get to play a new team every night," junior forward Jake Layman said before the loss to Illinois. "It's definitely a different feel going into a new place every night. I look at as a bit of an advantage, because the team doesn't really know that much about us."

Said Turgeon: "It's totally different going into these cities. Maybe not having a tough loss in a building and walking back into it is good, it's beneficial. Everything's fresh to us right now. It's kind of exciting, to be honest. I've never been to Purdue. I've never been to Illinois. I've never been to Michigan State."

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Senior forward Jon Graham (Calvert Hall), who spent his first two seasons in the Big Ten at Penn State, said he likes returning to where he started, even if it's with a team totally unfamiliar with the league.

"It's always great to have a fresh new face, especially in a great conference like the Big Ten," said Graham, who could play more Saturday than he did in the Terps' previous two games (eight minutes against Illinois, nine minutes against Michigan State) because of his physical style. "It's a new chapter, a new era, and we're honored to lead them into the Big Ten."

Graham said that despite the Big Ten's reputation as a physical league, a label that could manifest itself Saturday, it's not that different from the ACC.

"It's really just different settings, different locations," Graham said. "We're not playing the same schools like Duke and North Carolina, places like that. The intensity is about the same."

But the arenas are older, and the temperatures are colder. Instead of Cameron Indoor Stadium and Krzyzewskiville, there's Mackey Arena and John R. Wooden Drive.

Not that Turgeon and the Terps noticed.

Notes: Maryland will honor Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams at a campus event Jan. 16, the night before the Terps host Michigan State. The event will be held at the College Park Marriott and Conference Center, with a cocktail reception at 6:30 p.m. and a dinner at 7:30. Guest speakers will include 2002 Final Four Most Valuable Player Juan Dixon, now a special assistant to Turgeon, as well as former star Walt Williams and athletic director Kevin Anderson. In 2014, Gary Williams became the first person to be inducted into both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in the same year. Tickets are $100 each. For more information, contact Katie Lowe at klowe8@umd.edu or 301-314-0375.

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