After last-second home win over No. 24 Nebraska, Maryland tries to build momentum on two-game road trip

Shortly after his team lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon pointed to the reasons for a disappointing 19-13 season.

Injuries to forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender were at the top of Turgeon’s list, followed by the turnovers and poor decision-making that plagued the Terps from start to finish. There was also a less obvious reason: the schedule.

Turgeon said Maryland could never get any momentum going during a Big Ten season in which the Terps finished 8-10. Except for one two-game road trip, Maryland alternated home and away games.

With the league schedule expanded to 20 games, Turgeon’s team will try to build some momentum from Wednesday’s 74-72 home win over No. 24 Nebraska on Wednesday. But Maryland will have to do so on the road.

A stretch with four of the next six games coming on the road begins Saturday at Rutgers. It continues Tuesday at Minnesota and after back-to-back home games against No. 21 Indiana and No. 22 Wisconsin, it ends with back-to-back road games at No. 14 Ohio State and No. 8 Michigan State.

Asked Friday after practice how difficult it was going to be to sustain the success his team found in its past two games, Turgeon said, “In our league, every night’s going to be a tough game whether you’re at home or on the road. You really just to have to lock in on that one game. We did that with Nebraska and now we’re really locked into Rutgers. It’s going to be a grind. We’re much more confident right now than we were going into the Nebraska game, so that should help us.”

It’s not as if Maryland is coming off one of its better performances of the season. The Terps erased an eight-point deficit early in the second half to lead by as many as four twice late before a spate of sloppy turnovers and silly fouls helped the Cornhuskers hold the lead into the final minute.

Maryland (11-3, 2-1 Big Ten) was saved by the late-game heroics of freshman forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph), who scored his team’s last seven points, including a floater with 3.8 seconds remaining that proved to be his first game-winner since he left high school.

Turgeon said the result should help his team’s approach to playing Rutgers (7-5, 0-2).

“Whenever you come off a win, you feel good about yourself,” he said. “We watched a lot of film [Thursday], trying to learn from our mistakes in the Nebraska game.

“We made the same mistakes we made at Purdue [a 62-60 loss Dec. 6] and against Seton Hall [a 78-74 loss at home Dec. 22], but we were just lucky enough to win this one. We’ve got to eliminate those mistakes moving forward. And we’ll be a better team because of it.”

Though most teams wouldn’t consider the trip to Piscataway, N.J., for a game against the Scarlet Knights daunting, the majority of these Terps had no part of either previous visit. Maryland has played at Rutgers twice since joining the Big Ten — a 10-point win in their inaugural season in 2014-15 and a 20-point win two years ago.

But after beating a ranked team for the first time since Feb. 6, 2016, a loss at Rutgers Athletic Center would be a big momentum-killer in terms of Maryland’s confidence and NCAA tournament hopes given that the Scarlet Knights have won just nine of 73 league games since joining the Big Ten with the Terps.

But the Terps have struggled on the road the past two years in the Big Ten. After beating Illinois in overtime in last year’s Big Ten road opener, Maryland didn’t win another game on the road until beating Northwestern in its last trip. This season started out with the loss at Purdue on Dec. 6.

Turgeon said his young team is well aware of both Maryland’s recent history with Rutgers. He said the Terps are also aware of the long, uphill climb back to respectability the Scarlet Knights have faced the past four years and the improvements they have made under third-year coach Steve Pikiell.

“Here’s the deal, they’re 18 to 22. My guys are smart, they’re not stupid. We know how good Rutgers is,” Turgeon said. “They’ve had time to prepare [since their last game Dec. 29]. They’ve had all kinds of team meetings this week.

“It’s a big game for them. They lost at Seton Hall by five or six and Seton Hall beat us at home by four. Our guys know that we have to go there and play well to win.”

With a sellout crowd expected — the second straight Big Ten sellout for Rutgers — junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. said Friday he expects the Terps to handle the road environment better than it did last year, when the team went 2-8 away from Xfinity Center.

“Just like every other Big Ten place, it’s going to be rowdy in there,” Cowan said. “You’re going to hear a lot of different things. You’ve got to try to keep your composure and come out with a win.”

Reminded that Maryland fans from the area often fill up large chunks of RAC, Cowan smiled.

“It’s still going to be a whole lot of red,” he said. “You just don’t know which red is for you.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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