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Terps get another chance to prove they're an NCAA tournament team ... and don't

COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland men’s basketball team hasn’t looked much like a tournament team lately, but it had a real chance to change that opinion Sunday against sixth-ranked Michigan State.

The planets certainly seemed to be lined up for that with the first sellout crowd of the season at Xfinity Center trying to raise the roof, but the Terps are just too rough around the edges to play a complete game against a top 10 opponent.

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University of Maryland men's head coach Mark Turgeon talks about the 74-68 loss to Michigan State. (Kenneth K. Lam. Baltimore Sun video)

They played a strong first half and went into the break on an emotional high when Jared Nickens hit a 3-pointer to give them a 13-point lead, but — as they did against 24th-ranked Michigan two weeks ago — they came out flat in the second half and got flattened.

Another ranked opponent. Another chance to get a quality win. Another disheartening loss that probably ended any real hope of building a tournament resume.

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That’s what happens when you come out for the second half and get outscored 18-4 to cede that 13-point lead in little more than five minutes.

A chance at a signature win eludes the Terps again, making their chances of reaching the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight time seem even more distant.

It’s hard to figure out just what happens to the Terps in situations such as that, but it kept happening throughout the second half. They turned the ball over. They forced some shots. They didn’t rebound. They watched the Spartans turn missed free throws into easy tip-ins. They didn’t contest their own missed free throws.

One thing is pretty obvious. Coach Mark Turgeon needs to work on his halftime pep talk.

One other thing is obvious. The Terps really miss their injured big men and are showing signs of fatigue.

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That wasn’t much of an excuse Sunday, because they were well-rested and the Spartans had played at home Friday night. Michigan State had other reasons to be less than focused after the football and basketball programs were laid bare in an ugly ESPN expose over the weekend, but they snapped out of it in hte second half.

Down 13 to Maryland at halftime, No. 6 Michigan State holds off a Terps comeback bid to win its second game in three days.

It’s theoretically possible for the Terps to go on a big roll in their final eight conference games, but that would have to start with a road victory over No. 3 Purdue on Wednesday night.

Good luck with that.

When you regularly commit unforced turnovers and miss several dunks, it’s hard to curse the fates after a six-point loss.

The Terps are undeniably talented and they’re able to play with just about anybody, but that hasn’t been enough to overcome their injuries, inconsistency and inexperience.

What a shame.

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