Terps take undefeated Big Ten road record to Minnesota.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon doesn't like looking too far ahead on his team's Big Ten schedule, yet he knew after opening the conference season with two home games that the Terps would have to quickly become a good road team.
With his young team that includes three freshman starters currently in the midst of five road games in a seven-game stretch, Turgeon was asked Friday if was surprised at how well the Terps have played away from Xfinity Center.
"Yeah, we're further along than I expected," he said. "We know these next three weeks are really going to define if it's going to be just an unbelievably great season or if it's going to be a really, really good one. We'll see."
Going into Saturday's game at Minnesota (15-6, 3-5), No. 22 Maryland (18-2, 6-1) will be looking for its fourth straight road Big Ten victory without a loss this season. The Terps remain the only team in the league to be unbeaten on the road.
Maryland will be trying to match the 1998-'99 Terps, who started 19-2 overall and 4-0 on the road in the ACC. That team, led by junior college transfer Steve Francis, wound up 28-6 after losing in the Sweet 16 to St. John's.
Their win at Iowa on Jan. 19 came a week after the Hawkeyes beat then-No. 15 Purdue in Iowa City. Their two other road wins, at Michigan Jan. 7 and at Illinois on Jan. 14, came against teams that have otherwise been unbeaten at home in Big Ten play.
"We've just figured out how to win," Turgeon said. "It's just a belief system. We believe in each other and we defend just well enough at times to get a little spurt and separate us. We execute just well enough. Every game has been a little bit different. We've really enjoyed being on the road and hopefully that will continue the rest of the year."
Along with the bonding that typically goes on during road trips, Turgeon has always tried to loosen the mood at shoot-arounds on the opposing team's home court.
"We've been shooting around at night [before the game], getting up a lot of shots, playing games, [taking] half-court shots, everyone's just having a good time," senior center Damonte Dodd said Friday.
Dodd said he believes this year's team is better on the road than the Terps were last season, when they won their first two Big Ten road games and three of their first four before finishing the season 4-5, including losses at Purdue and Indiana to close the season.
"I just think we come out mentally ready and like I said, we're having fun," Dodd said. "If we continue to have fun, I think we'll have a lot of success."
Asked if last year's team was too tight on the road because of its high ranking and preseason expectations, Dodd said, "I think some guys thought about the high ranking, other guys thought about other things, too. Sometimes we just weren't all there."
That might have been the case at Minnesota last season. The Gophers had yet to win a game in the Big Ten going in on Feb. 18, and would only win one other, against Rutgers.
Playing without then-freshman center Diamond Stone because of a one-game suspension a year ago, the No. 6 Terps suffered an embarrassing 68-63 loss at Williams Arena.
"Richard [Pitino] has done a great job with his team. It's really hard. We'll talk about it. Our guys will be aware of it. But it won't be our sole motivation going into this game."
Freshman wing Kevin Huerter, who has played an increasingly larger role in his team's recent success, said the team's early-season victory over Georgetown at the Verizon Center as well as over Richmond and Kansas State in the Barclays Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., has carried over to the Big Ten.
"The Georgetown, the Brooklyn games weren't really away games. We definitely felt like the home team at those games even though they weren't our arena," Huerter said. "Luckily this year we haven't played in an away gym where all the students have been there. I don't think we've gotten the full road experience to be honest. I think with the games coming up and the opponents we will play, it will be something new."
On Saturday, Maryland will be playing a Minnesota team that has lost four straight games, most recently at Ohio State on Wednesday, since being ranked in the Top 25 two weeks ago.
"We realize tomorrow at Minnesota, the building's going to be full, it's a big game for them, they've lost a few in a row," Turgeon said. "We've just got to go try to handle it. We really don't talk about the [ranking] to be honest with you. We did when it first happened, but we haven't since."