Schmuck: No. 4 Virginia was the better team, but young Terps justified their Top-25 ranking

The Maryland men’s basketball team turned the ball over too much and struggled from the 3-point line for much of Wednesday night’s 76-71 loss to No. 4 Virginia at sold-out Xfinity Center, but it’s OK to put a positive spin on their first loss of the young season.

If not for some early jitters and a few defensive breakdowns, they might have been celebrating a signature victory.

Sure, it must feel like an opportunity lost, but this is a young team in development, and Wednesday night’s game showed that there is a lot of room for improvement.

When a team full of underclassmen fall behind by 17 points in the second half to one of the top teams in the country, it’s usually blowout time. Instead, the Terps showed resilience and delivered a late comeback that — despite falling short — should be a big confidence builder going into their Big Ten opener against Penn State on Saturday.

“We’re going to get better,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “We already have. We’ve gotten a lot better. We got better during the game tonight. We got used to the crowd. It was our first sellout. Some guys were nervous. They were making mistakes on stuff we worked on today in shoot around.

“We’ll get better. Let’s be real. We’re playing five young guys out of our top eight and we’ll have some growing pains. I told the team, I’ve loved coaching them from Day One.”

The Cavaliers have shaken off last year’s season-ending tournament loss to UMBC in one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history, punishing two other Maryland teams — Towson and Coppin State — in two of their first three nonconference games. They can add Morgan State to that list Monday.

But the Terps were no pushover. They shook off a very slow start in the second half and made enough of a statement at the end that they should hold their place in the Associated Press Top 25 if they defeat the Nittany Lions, who defeated No. 13 Virginia Tech on Tuesday night.

“We’ve got one hell of a tough schedule,” Turgeon said. “The league’s really good and we’ve got most of those guys twice, so we’re going to have to get better, but tonight was a good experience for us and we should be better because of it.”

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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