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Maryland men’s basketball searching for consistency with conference wins proving hard to string together

This time a year ago, the Maryland men’s basketball team was just beginning a nine-game winning streak in the heart of its Big Ten Conference schedule. It featured resounding comebacks, decisive wins and statement victories against some of the best teams in college basketball.

Talk of a championship, at the conference and national level, might not have been uttered much from coach Mark Turgeon and his players. But the Terps’ play during the streak made the discussion hard to avoid.

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When Turgeon spoke to reporters Friday ahead of Maryland’s road game at No. 17 Minnesota on Saturday, he spoke of something that, unlike last season, has eluded his team: consistency.

“We keep talking about being more consistent,” Turgeon said. “And what we’ve learned is we really have to play well to win in this league. We can’t play pretty good and beat the teams in this league for where we are. We have to play really well. And so we just got to be more consistent.

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“Two of the last three league games, we haven’t given the effort that we need — Iowa and Michigan — and they’re really good teams. But we’ve got to give more effort than we gave in those games. For Illinois, we gave the effort and played with confidence. It’s just about being more consistent on both ends and competing at a high level. And that’s what really what we’re trying to get.”

At 2-6 in the Big Ten and 8-7 overall, the Terps have already matched last season’s loss total and face an uphill battle to compile an NCAA tournament-worthy resume. Few teams in the Big Ten have seen the impact that significant roster turnover and an unforgiving schedule can have more than Maryland. And yet, the Terps’ two conference wins, which have come on the road against top-15 opponents, provides them with confidence — and a framework for victory — as they enter the second half of Big Ten play.

“We do take a lot from those wins because those are really good teams,” Turgeon said. “It gives us hope that we’re still in this thing, as far as starting to win a few games and get better.”

Of course, the team’s last outing, a 24-point road loss at No. 7 Michigan, its worst defeat to date, did little to reinforce that notion. Maryland didn’t resemble the team that had knocked off then-No. 6 Wisconsin and then-No. 12 Illinois and was thoroughly outclassed by one of the most well-rounded teams in the nation.

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The aftermath of the loss was a film session with 37 clips of defensive lapses against the Wolverines, Turgeon said. While it’s not any coach’s desire to have to scrupulously dissect his team’s defensive effort after a loss, junior guard Eric Ayala said there were “good things that we can build off of.”

It’s been a season of tinkering for Maryland. Turgeon unapologetically turned to a small-ball approach even as every week seemingly forces the undersized team to match up against another premier big man. He’s begun to move Ayala, who leads the team in points per game (13.8) and minutes per game (31.8) off the ball and given sophomore guard Hakim Hart more ball-handling duties. Turgeon admitted its results are a “work in progress.”

But there’s still optimism that the issues that have consistently plagued Maryland can be improved, from the self-inflicted (poor free-throw shooting) to the more deep-rooted (lack of post presence).

“It’s never one of those things where we go in there expecting to lose or just trying to stay in the game or anything like that,” Ayala said. “We always go into the game prepared to win. Coaches do a good job of setting us up to play for a win. So definitely going into this game, we’re definitely going in there to win a basketball game.”

Note: The Big Ten Conference announced that Maryland’s game against No. 10 Wisconsin in College Park has been moved to Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 9 p.m. It was previously scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 30. The schedule change was made by the Big Ten to facilitate the rescheduling of the Michigan at Penn State game. Maryland’s game against Wisconsin will air live on Big Ten Network as previously planned.

MARYLAND@NO. 17 MINNESOTA

Saturday, 2 p.m.

TV: BTN Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

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