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Terps

Back in rankings and in first place, Maryland facing 'new experience' at Iowa

COLLEGE PARK — Rarely do college basketball teams drop out of the Top 25 after victories, yet that is what happened to Maryland after it needed a second-half comeback to beat American in the season opener.

A little more than two months later, the Terps (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten) are again ranked 25th, as they were going into the season, and seem like a different team heading into Thursday's game at Iowa (11-8, 3-3).

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The Terps are tied for first place in the Big Ten, have won their first two league road games and, as they did Saturday at Illinois, will go into Carver-Hawkeye Arena carrying the memory of a blowout defeat there two years ago.

During a team meeting Tuesday a few hours after the rankings came out, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon asked his players how they felt to be back in the Top 25 — barely.

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He received a lot of blank stares.

"One player said, 'They had to rank us, Coach. We're 16-2 and we're No. 1 the Big Ten,'" Turgeon recalled after practice Wednesday. "We're not really concerned. But Iowa is."

Pointing out that the Hawkeyes have already beaten two Top 25 teams at home this season — then-No. 25 Iowa State on Dec. 8 and then-No. 17 Purdue last Thursday — Turgeon said he hopes the crowd won't play as big a factor as it has.

"Every crowd in the Big Ten is good," Turgeon said. "The building was close to filled at Illinois. I think the students are back at Iowa, adds another dimension to the game. We'll definitely talk about it."

Though only five players remain from two years ago, and the Terps have three freshmen and four newcomers in the rotation, Turgeon will certainly bring up the 2015 debacle in Iowa City.

Despite winning two of their first three Big Ten road games in their first season in the new league, the then-No. 17 Terps came out flat, falling behind 17-2, 24-5 and 40-17 at halftime before losing 71-55.

It was Maryland's third straight blowout defeat on the road in the Big Ten that season.

"We'll talk about what happened two years ago," Turgeon said.

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Freshman wing Kevin Huerter, who was a junior in high school in upstate New York at the time, said while he and fellow freshman starters Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson have yet to experience that, "We can't make the same mistake and that's coming in dead. We've got to bring our own energy because we're not going to get it from the crowd."

While Turgeon acknowledges that this team is similar to the 2014-15 edition in its ability to win close games, the personality and experience of this year's team is different because of the importance of the freshmen.

"This team's been really grounded, so we're just trying to get better," Turgeon said. "We've got a tough stretch ahead of us. Our guys realize that. In every season, unless you've got superior talent, you have your ups and downs. We haven't had our downs yet. Hopefully we don't. We know what lies ahead. We've just got to keep trying to get better."

Huerter said the Terps have been different since they blew a 13-point lead in the last 6½ minutes in a home loss to Nebraska on New Year's Day.

"I think it kind of woke us up. Every practice after that, we've been playing with a lot more intensity, we've been getting a lot better on the defensive end," Huerter said. "After that game, we realized we can't rest, we've got to respect every opponent. I think we have ever since that game."

Huerter said that the Top 25 ranking might only serve to heighten that focus.

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"It's a new experience. We were ranked for it seemed like a week at the beginning of the year, but it doesn't really change anything," Huerter said. "Coach said that when we were watching film yesterday. We can't let the number in front of our name on TV bother us. We've still got to come in and work every day and get wins."

Interestingly, the Hawkeyes have a similar composition to the Terps. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery also lost four starters from last year's NCAA tournament team, and surrounds senior star Peter Jok, the Big Ten's leading scorer, with four freshmen.

"They're deep, they're skilled, a lot the same [as last season], just younger," Turgeon said. "They can shoot it, they can pass it, they've got a great player in Jok. I was really impressed with their two big freshmen. That was the biggest shocker to me when I started watching film. I wasn't expecting that. It's a good team, especially a good team at home."

Turgeon's team has been impressive, if far from perfect, on the road, too.

Cowan, who led the Terps with 19 points and seven rebounds and hit four free throws in the final seconds to seal Saturday's win at Illinois, said nobody is getting a big head about being ranked.

"We've still got to come in with the same mentality, keep playing with a chip on our shoulder," he said. "That got us to where we are right now, so nothing should change. "

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NOTES: Turgeon said he is "shutting down" redshirt sophomore guard Dion Wiley, who hasn't played the past three games because of a back injury and will not make the trip to Iowa. Junior center Michal Cekovsky's ankle injury is "rapidly improving" and the 7-foot-1 Slovakian could play against the Hawkeyes. ... After shooting 10-for-20 from the free-throw line against Illinois, Turgeon had his players shoot 100 in practice Tuesday. Cowan said he made 97. When a reporter questioned the number, Cowan said, "That's what I say, 'Why can't I make them in the game?'"

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56


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