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Turgeon has been through slumps, but many of his Maryland players are new to the experience

COLLEGE PARK — In 20 seasons as a Division I men’s basketball coach, Mark Turgeon has experienced a lot worse than what his Maryland team has been through the past three weeks.

His first team at Jacksonville State, in 1998-99, started 5-4, then lost 11 straight games and 15 of 16 before closing an 8-18 season with a pair of wins. The next season, the Gamecocks went 17-11.

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His first team at Wichita State in 2000-01 started 6-5 but also lost 11 straight and 13 of its last 15 games to finish 9-19. The Shockers steadily improved and reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in 2003-04.

After losing Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan in the offseason and a pair of games in the Battle4Atlantis tournament, the Boilermakers have evolved into the nation's No. 3 team.

Even his first NCAA tournament team at Maryland in 2014-15 endured a rough stretch in late January and early February, losing three of five, each defeat a road blowout, before turning things around.

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Though it’s becoming a longer shot with every loss that the Terps can make their fourth straight NCAA tournament, Turgeon’s own history gives him the confidence this season isn’t a lost cause.

Despite a pair of missed opportunities in the past 11 days and a recent stretch of four defeats in five games going into Wednesday night’s visit to No. 3 Purdue, Turgeon said Tuesday at least three times during a nearly 10-minute news conference that the Terps “have turned the corner.”

Asked whether he has told his team there’s still time to reverse the slump, Turgeon said: “I think we’ve already come together. I think we’re playing a lot better.

“Think about the 30-point loss [at Michigan State on Jan. 4] and the 22-point loss [at Ohio State on Jan. 11], we didn’t look very good in those games. We haven’t looked like that in a while.”

UCLA, Purdue and DePaul are also under consideration.

His players share that mindset.

Asked what gives them confidence that the team will make a late-season run similar to three years ago, when the Terps won their last eight regular-season games, sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. said it starts in the locker room.

“We all still have confidence in each other. We have confidence in Coach [Turgeon]. It’s still a long season. A lot of people don’t realize that we still have [eight] more games,” Cowan said. “That can change a whole lot of things. … We just got to stay confident.”

While some fans might agonize more over the past three defeats than the blowouts — a 68-67 loss at No. 23 Michigan on Jan. 15, a 71-68 loss at Indiana on Jan. 21 and Sunday’s 74-68 home loss to then-No. 6 Michigan State — Turgeon sees it as progress.

“We haven’t been able to finish the deal,” Turgeon said. “Indiana’s a pretty darn good team and Bruno [Fernando] gets hurt with 15 minutes to go and we still have a chance to win it, so we’re doing a lot of really good things.

Whether it's a matter of minutes or even a few seconds, the Terps are unable to sustain playing at a high level.

“Our attitude’s been good. It’s just really hard to win in college basketball, it’s really hard. We’ve played a pretty difficult schedule in league play so far. The key is that our guys don’t lose faith in what we’re trying to get done.”

That might be more of a struggle, given that many of his players have rarely experienced losing with such regularity through their high school and college careers. The only thing similar came last season, when the Terps lost five of their last seven games after then-junior center Michal Cekovsky broke his ankle.

“It’s been tough,” sophomore guard Kevin Huerter said. "I think a lot of people who play at this level come from backgrounds where they probably didn’t lose a lot as a kid, so you go through tough stretches where you don’t always know how to handle it.

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“You have to stay together as a team. That’s the first and most important thing. Winning solves everything, and when you start losing, that brings a lot of things to the surface. We still know we’re really talented — we have a lot of pieces. Just got to figure it out.”

Though most don’t give the Terps any shot to pull off an upset at Mackey Arena, where they will go in as 14 1/2-point underdogs, Huerter looks at it differently.

Here's what you need to know about the Terps' men's basketball game Wednesday night.

“We have a really good opportunity — the No. 3 team in the country going into their place, no one expects us to win," he said. “That’s a position I love being in, so we’ll go in there and play as hard as we can.”

With the exception of graduate center Sean Obi, who played on a losing team at Rice as a freshman before transferring to Duke, the rest of Maryland’s upperclassmen have played in the NCAA tournament each year.

The two freshmen, guard Darryl Morsell [Mount Saint Joseph] and Fernando, were part of winning programs in high school. Morsell’s team last season won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.

“We just got to continue to play hard,” Cowan said. “We’ve got to make sure we focus into the game plan. Coach has been giving us a great game plan that we haven’t been able to follow all the way throughout the whole game.”

Cowan takes some responsibility for each of the past two losses, particularly Sunday against the Spartans when his drive with 42 seconds left and the Terps down four was blocked by freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr.

Charles averaged 24.5 points, four rebounds and two steals in a pair of wins last week for the No. 11 Terps

“I watched the game a couple of times, just bringing up that play again, I’m just seeing so many different options in my head," Cowan said Wednesday. “Dion [Wiley] being wide open, Bruno being right underneath the basket or Kevin coming off that screen.

“There’s nothing you can really do about it now, just keep learning from it and next time just make the right play. I see a lot of things that I could’ve done better. I just got to make sure I learn from them and know how to make them not happen again."

Huerter acknowledged that the Terps are running out of time when it comes to the NCAA tournament.

“This is a big game for us trying to get that road win that a [selection] committee can look at and say, ‘That was a big win for them,’ ” Huerter said. “With Purdue at the top of our league, I think anyone’s trying to knock them off.”

Not that it’s a distraction for a team that has trouble keeping its focus for 40 minutes.

“It’s never something you think about during games,” Huerter said. "It’s the kind of thing you think about when you lose a game. Just know that the best teams are teams that win a lot and go to the NCAA tournament. … First and foremost, we're just trying to win games and put ourselves in the conversation.”

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