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Maryland set to host No. 6 Michigan State team dealing with scandal

COLLEGE PARK — Given how Michigan State demolished Maryland by 30 points when the teams met earlier this month in East Lansing, Mich., the Terps could use all the help they can get when they play the No. 6 Spartans on Sunday at Xfinity Center.

An expected sellout — the first of the 2017-18 season — should benefit Maryland, which has lost three of its past four games and is in dire need of a signature win for an NCAA tournament resume that includes just one top-50 victory.

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The condensed Big Ten schedule, which worked against the Terps when they played Jan. 4 at Breslin Center two days after a home game against Penn State, could work in Maryland’s favor this time. The Spartans played Friday at home against Wisconsin.

After nearly hitting a game-winner recently at Michigan, Maryland sophomore guard Kevin Huerter is looking to up his game for Terps.

“I think it makes a difference, especially when you have to travel on top of it, which we did and now they have to do,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after practice Saturday. “They’re even a little more at a disadvantage because it’s an afternoon game.”

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Said sophomore guard Kevin Huerter: “I think it can go either way [in terms of having an advantage]. Teams, sometimes they have long breaks and they come out flat versus a team that’s been playing a lot of games in a row. I think our advantage tomorrow is just playing at home.”

Yet the most intriguing aspect of the matchup is the effect the growing controversy surrounding Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo will have on his team. Izzo’s future has suddenly become clouded in the scandal that has enveloped the Michigan State athletic program.

Two of Izzo’s former players, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, have been accused of raping a female student in 2010. Travis Walton, a former student assistant coach, was accused of punching one female student in the face at a bar as well as sexually assaulting another.

An ESPN investigation grew out of the scandal involving Michigan State’s role in covering up or ignoring Dr. Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of more than 150 young female gymnasts, including several Olympians, while he was employed as a physician by the school.

In the wake of resignations this past week by university president Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis, Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio, whose program has been accused of at least 16 sexual assaults or other violence against women, have also come under fire.

“Well, I'm not going anywhere in my mind,” Izzo told reporters after the Spartans’ game Friday. “I’m definitely not retiring. There’s a lot of things that happened today that are a part of life. I’m going to worry about my team, I’m going to worry about the survivors and worry about what I do. And have no plans on doing that.”

How much impact the mushrooming scandal on the Michigan State campus has on a game hundreds of miles away at Maryland is difficult to predict. It’s not something Terps coach Mark Turgeon nor his players have experienced.

After saying this season that teams that played summer tours had advantage over Terps, Mark Turgeon is taking his team to Italy in 2018

Asked how difficult it is to block out the controversy surrounding the program, Turgeon said, “I think basketball gives you to something to focus on, and having back-to-back games might be good for them, I don’t know.”

This is without a doubt the toughest two-game stretch of the season for Maryland (15-7, 4-5 Big Ten). After Sunday, the Terps play Wednesday at No. 3 Purdue, which hasn’t lost since dropping back-to-back games in a Thanksgiving tournament in the Bahamas.

“We’re just worried about Sunday first,” said Turgeon, whose Terps have beaten the Spartans in their two previous trips to Maryland. “We’re just trying get better, trying to learn from our mistakes. Hopefully we’re getting better defensively. It’s been a problem for us.”

And Turgeon can’t block out the reality that a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance is in doubt unless his team can get on a late-season roll.

“We know every game is big, we know we need to win as many games as we possibly can to keep our streak alive with the NCAA tournament,” Turgeon said. “We are where we are. We can’t get caught up in that we have to win this game because … a lot of teams are losing.”

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NOTE: Freshman center Bruno Fernando, who came out of Monday’s 71-68 loss at Indiana with a sprained right ankle, practiced “a little” Saturday. Though Turgeon said he will be a “game-time decision,” the 6-foot-10 Angolan is expected to play. … Former Mississippi State center Schnider Herard is enrolled in school and has started practicing. He will have 2½ years left of eligibility beginning after the fall semester later this year.

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