Terps' record in close games bodes well now that it's tournament time

Maryland's Mark Turgeon was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the media. Senior Dez Wells, freshman Melo Trimble and junior Jake Layman also earned conference honors. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Maryland men's basketball fans have been angsting all season about the number of narrow victories the Terps have recorded. The worry now is that if Mark Turgeon's team gets in a close game in the NCAA tournament, the season could be over.

That might not be the case.


No, 8 Maryland's 10-0 record in games decided by six points or less is the best among the top 10 teams in the country. Only Duke (6-1) and Villanova (5-1) can approach the Terps in terms of percentage, and Kansas (7-4) with the number of close games it has won.

While many believe that Kentucky won't lose this season, the Wildcats have not been in many tight games (2-0 in games decided by six points or less). Look what happened when the Wildcats knocked off top-seeded Wichita State two years ago in the NCAA tournament.


The Shockers went into St. Louis unbeaten, had been in only two games decided by six points or less, and had dominated their competition much in the same way as Kentucky has done this season. The Wildcats won, 78-76.

Interestingly, all three of Arizona losses this season have been in close games, on the road at UNLV, Oregon State and Arizona State. Both of Virginia's losses came down to the final minute, against Duke and Louisville. The same is true for Gonzaga, a pair of three-point losses against Arizona and BYU.

As for this week's Big Ten tournament, the Terps are 6-0 in conference games decided by six points or less. While Turgeon has joked that his team only loses when it gets blown out – by 19 at Indiana, by 24 at Ohio State and by 16 at Iowa – he might have an advantage if things get tight in Chicago.

Compare Maryland's record in close games to Purdue (5-3), Illinois (3-1), Michigan State (3-2, including a double-overtime loss to the Terps in East Lansing), Ohio State (2-3),  Wisconsin (1-2, including a six-point loss at College Park) and Iowa (1-3).

Of the two teams the Terps could face in Friday's quarterfinals, neither can match Maryland in close games.

Northwestern (4-4) has won its past three games decided by six points or less after losing four of its first five, including a 68-67 loss in College Park when Dez Wells hit an acrobatic game-winning follow.

Indiana has gone the other way.

After winning their first three games decided by six points or less, the Hoosiers have lost four of their last five, including a 68-66 loss at Xfinity Center when Yogi Ferrell missed two shots in the waning seconds.

The Terps haven't blown out a team in awhile – or been blown out. After beating Minnesota by 12 in the Big Ten home opener and Michigan State by 16 a couple of weeks later, Maryland won its next six Big Ten games by an average of 3.7 points.

Even the 10-point wins over Michigan and Rutgers were close games until the last few minutes. The Terps closed out the regular season with a three-point win over Nebraska. The Terps won 14 league games by an average of just over six points per game.

Conversely, Wisconsin's 15 league wins are by an average of more than 14 points. Iowa's 12 wins were by a few fractions of a point better than that. Michigan State's 12 league wins are by nearly 10 points, and Ohio State's 11 wins were by an average of 12 points a game.

It typically comes down to which is the hottest team coming into the tournament. The Terps have the longest winning streak of any Big Ten team coming into Chicago, with seven straight wins, one more than Iowa. Wisconsin's only loss in its last 14 games was to Maryland.


What does all that mean?

I think Maryland's ability to close out games has much to do with the cold-bloodedness of its guards, Melo Trimble and Dez Wells. They continually make plays for themselves and others, hit big shots and knock down their free throws.

This inability to close out teams after getting big leads can be draining to Turgeon, fans and even sportswriters. Turgeon has said repeatedly that luck has been involved in this turnaround season, given how opponents repeatedly miss free throws down the stretch.

There is also a confidence that the Terps have, particularly when the ball is in the hands of either Wells or Trimble. As agonizing as it is can be for Turgeon – and for those in the press box trying to get a story in on deadline – you get the feeling that Maryland is somehow going to win the close ones.

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