COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland men’s basketball team has run into a speed bump after winning its first five games of the season, but not to worry.
Not yet, at least.
The Terps have lost three of their past four games, including Friday night’s Big Ten opener against Purdue at Xfinity Center, and will take the floor in their conference road opener at Illinois on Sunday night clearly needing a boost in the confidence department.
An uptick in their shooting percentage wouldn’t hurt either.
They are 6-3 and all three of those losses were so close in the final minute of play that coach Mark Turgeon just needs to remind his players that the finish line is a long way off and good teams – particularly good young teams — often take different routes to get there.
Last season was a case in point. The Terps entered February with a 20-2 record and proceeded to wear down during the final month of conference play, losing six of 10 games before losing their first game in the NCAA tournament.
“The people who have been here know how long conference play is,” sophomore guard Kevin Huerter said after Friday’s loss to Purdue. “We know how many opportunities – especially this year – there are to get quality, good wins. We’re in conference play and coming up there are going to be big games that we need to win, starting with Sunday. … This one hurts. It’s on our home court. It’s a really good team that we feel we could have beaten. But conference play is really long and we started off last year really well and we didn’t end very well at all.”
There was nothing wrong with a 24-9 record and a third straight trip to the Big Dance, but the Terps need to flip that script to get back to the tournament and go deeper into March.
So maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to be tested so early this season. The Terps have faced their share of adversity and have – for the most part – risen to those challenges.
They probably should not have lost to St. Bonaventure and they fumbled away an opportunity to beat Syracuse on the road, but they rebounded from a 15-point halftime deficit to avoid an upset loss to Bucknell and battled back from multiple double-digit deficits against Purdue before Jared Nickens missed a 3-pointer that would’ve tied the game with 14 seconds left.
“I think we played a really good game, honestly,” said sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who brought the Terps back at the end with a 10-second, seven-point spurt in the final minute. “I think the first half we were down a lot, but I think we really brought it in the second half. We’ve just got to play a complete game. We’ll get better. We’ll turn it around.”
Turgeon marveled at the fact that his team could be outshot so decisively by the Boilermakers and still be there at the end, but it wasn’t that surprising. This Maryland team has terrific young talent and something last year’s team didn’t – more scoring potential down low and a longer, more dependable bench.
“We’ve got a lot to learn,” Turgeon said Friday, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it means the Terps have as much upside as it appears.
If the Purdue game proved anything, it was that the young Terps are already tough enough mentally to keep their composure when things are going poorly. The Boilermakers jumped all over them in the early minutes of the game with an otherworldly shooting performance by center Isaac Haas and guard Dakota Mathias, who combined to sink 13 out of 14 shots in the first half.
Purdue bottled up Kevin Huerter and forced the ball into the hands of freshman Darryl Morsell, who hit just three of 16 shots, and still Maryland battled back by getting 16 offensive rebounds and turning the ball over just seven times.
“It’s not big things,” Huerter said Friday. “Every game it seems like it’s just little stuff why we’re losing. Today, it seems like we won almost every category other than we didn’t shoot it as well as they did. Sometimes, it just comes down to making shots. … It’s not a big-picture thing.”