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Slow-starting Terps have proven they can come back. Should be a plus going forward | COMMENTARY

It’s a bad habit the Maryland men’s basketball team can’t seem to break.

The 17th-ranked Terps apparently need about 20 minutes to warm up for a game, which would be just fine if it wasn’t after tipoff.

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Even against a very beatable team such as Northwestern last Tuesday, they fell behind 10-0 and left the floor at intermission trailing by 14, which would have been a prescription for another frustrating road loss had they been playing one of the dozen or so solid teams in the Big Ten.

None of this is breaking news to Terps fans, who have seen this movie too many times, but they know better than to start browsing their streaming services at halftime because there’s probably a comeback brewing in the locker room.

Coach Mark Turgeon would certainly rather see his team fly out of the gate the way it did in that early season tournament final against Marquette. That early-December win boosted the Terps to No. 3 in the AP Top 25, which was the high-water mark of their season.

But they opened Big Ten play a week later and trailed then-unranked Illinois by 14 points at halftime before staging a furious rally and winning on a four-point burst by Anthony Cowen Jr. in the final 20 seconds.

With the Northwestern comeback, they became the first Power 5 team to rebound twice in the same season from a halftime deficit of 14 points or more in a non-tournament conference game since UCLA turned that unusual trick against Washington State and USC during the 2004-2005 Pac-12 season.

The Terps have trailed at halftime in five of their first eight Big Ten games — four times by double digits. If you need any more proof that Maryland is a second-half team, the Terps have scored more points in the first half than the second in just three of their 19 games.

Turgeon can’t really explain that, but he can’t really complain about it with his team at 15-4 heading into Sunday’s game at Indiana.

“I don’t know,’’ he said Friday. “Every year is different. This is who this team is. We’ve responded. We’ve gotten a little bit tougher — physically and mentally — and our guys believe they can come back. That’s really what’s important. And, as a coaching staff, we believe we can come back because believe in our defense, our rebounding and, at some point, we’re going to hit shots in the game.”

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Obviously, they can’t expect to fall behind by big halftime margins against the other big dogs of the conference, but there is a case to be made that these early conference struggles could translate into a more confident and consistent NCAA tournament-bound team over the remainder of the conference schedule.

“Yeah, I’d love to get more consistent,’’ Turgeon said. “Can’t promise that. (This is) the grind of the best league in the country. If we can just be more consistent, which I think we have been. Really, since Christmas, we’ve been a little bit more consistent. I know we had a bad half against Northwestern and everybody was going crazy, but we don’t overreact. We just go on to the next play and try to get better.”

Guard Eric Ayala also can’t find the words to explain the unusual ebb and flow of this season, but he’s certain that the ability to figure things out before it’s too late reflects the unity of this young, talented Maryland team.

“I can’t even call that,’’ Ayala said. “We just go out there and play. Sometimes, we’re up and we keep the lead and keep it going, but we’ve been playing behind a little bit. It shows something this team has. We’ve got something special that, for us to be able to come together and come back in those games and compete, it shows how together we are.”

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