Despite the number of teams that are suddenly in the mix for the top four spots in the Big Ten standings and a double-bye into the quarterfinals of the league tournament next week in Washington, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon has only one thought going into Saturday’s regular-season finale.
“We’re only thinking about beating Michigan State,” Turgeon said.
Coming off a 79-59 win at Rutgers on Tuesday that broke a three-game losing streak, Maryland (23-7, 11-6) would like to finish with some momentum going into the Verizon Center. Coming off a 73-70 loss at Illinois on Wednesday, Michigan State (18-12, 10-7) is also still in the hunt for one of those top four spots.
"We’re approaching it like we do every game – we play every game to win it,” Turgeon said Friday in College Park. “I know there’s a lot of ties and different things going on. … We played well Tuesday. We want to play well tomorrow. We’ve had great practices. Our energy level is back at a high level.”
A victory over the Spartans would assure the Terps of the No. 3 seed in Washington. If Maryland fell at home and Minnesota lost to Wisconsin, the Terps would end up at No. 4; if Maryland lost and the Golden Gophers won, the Terps would receive the No. 5 seed and just one bye.
Asked about the possibility of getting the double-bye and avoiding playing Thursday for the first time since joining the Big Ten, Turgeon said, “That would be pretty amazing, considering that we were picked 10th. There’s a lot at stake for us. ... We’re just focusing right now on us getting better.”
Said freshman point guard Anthony Cowan, “Yesterday, honestly, we had one of the best practices we had all year. I think everybody’s into it, everybody understands what’s at stake, especially tomorrow. I think everybody is ready to have one final big push and to send our seniors out the right way.”
Senior center Damonte Dodd and graduate transfer forward L.G. Gill will be honored before the game Saturday.
Dodd, who was also recruited by Georgetown and Morgan State coming out of Queen Anne’s High in Centreville, has started most of his last three seasons, all of which resulted in NCAA tournament bids. Gill played three years at Duquesne and has played well in spots this season, including scoring 10 points against Rutgers.
Dodd is only the second player to start and finish his Maryland career under Turgeon, following Jake Layman.
“I feel like I’ve known Damonte forever,” Turgeon said. “I recruited him my first year here and he ended up going to a prep school and growing up a little bit. Boy he’s come a long ways on the court, off the court, everything. He’s just a great kid. He’s done a lot for our program.”
Said Dodd, “Time flew, but it’s been a great four years. I’ve been here for ups and downs, and things like that. Coach Turgeon has been a great coach. He took me in, and they took me in as a family. It’s been a great four years and I’m glad I played here.”
Cowan, who was an early catalyst in Tuesday’s road win when he scored all nine of his points in the first half, called the matchup with Michigan State “a must-win game” given how important it for the Terps to secure a bye all the way into Friday’s quarterfinals.
Dodd played a major role in the second half against Rutgers with nine points, six of his seven rebounds and cutting off the inside from the Scarlet Knights. Dodd will have a tough matchup Saturday with Michigan State freshman Nick Ward.
Turgeon is mindful of how poorly the Terps have played at home the past two games, losing by 14 points in back-to-back defeats to Minnesota and Iowa. A victory will help give Maryland a winning record at home in the Big Ten to go along with an impressive 7-2 road record.
“We want to finish the home season the right way – it’s been a different year for us at home, not what we’ve been accumstomed to the past couple of years,” said Turgeon, whose Terps are 4-4 at home in the Big Ten and also lost to Pittsburgh earlier in the season.
“We’ve got to play the way we’re capable of playing, do the things we need to do and have the same mentality we’ve had when we’ve been successful. So that’s what’s important. And we’ve got a couple of seniors obviously tomorrow that we need to send out on a good note.”