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‘It was devastating’: Maryland’s Mark Turgeon reflects on season after coronavirus pandemic cancels NCAA tournament

In his first public comments since the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon said he agreed with the decision to not play the tournament but expressed his disappointment over the sudden ending to the season.

“It was devastating. We knew it was going this way,” Turgeon said Thursday night in an interview with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. “They did the right thing. They had to do it with everything that’s going on out there. But it still kills you. It hurts.”

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After initially planning to play the remainder of its conference tournament without spectators, the Big Ten canceled the event early Thursday. The rest of the Power 5 conferences later did the same.

Turgeon said his team found out about the cancellation of the Big Ten tournament approximately 11:45 a.m., shortly before the Terps were set to hold practice then travel to Indianapolis for their first game Friday evening.

Hours later, the NCAA announced that it was cancelling all championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as sports leagues take precaution to limit the spread of the coronavirus, now labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

The Big Ten subsequently announced it was canceling “all conference and non-conference competitions through the end of the academic year, including spring sports that compete beyond the academic year, and participation in all NCAA tournaments and competitions.”

The NCAA’s decision puts an abrupt end to the college career of senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who helped guide Maryland to its first conference title in a decade. It could also spell the end of sophomore forward Jalen Smith’s time in College Park. The Baltimore product is a projected first-round pick in the 2020 NBA draft and could forego his remaining eligibility for the pros.

“The thing that really makes it tough,” Turgeon said, “is as players and coaches, you work so hard to try to get to the NCAA tournament and try to have a chance to win it. And you sacrifice so much of your life, from your family, from everything, just trying to make it work. And that’s really hard for all us of to grasp right now. All the things that we give up and now we don’t get the opportunity to play in the tournament.”

Turgeon addressed his team after Thursday’s news broke and said he would meet again with his players on Friday. While the halting of the college basketball season has disheartened players and coaches around the nation, Turgeon took solace in beating Michigan on Senior Day to clinch the program’s first regular-season title in the Big Ten.

“That’s one great thing about this if there is a silver lining, that our last moment together was cutting down nets and winning a share of the Big Ten championship, regular-season championship,” Turgeon said.

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“When we didn’t have the Big Ten tournament, I told them, I said, ‘They can’t take away the championship from us. We’re champions.’ And that’s how I lifted everybody’s spirits a little bit, and we’ll talk about that again [Friday].”

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