GREENSBORO, N.C. — After beating Duke and narrowly losing to North Carolina in last year's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Maryland looked at the National Invitation Tournament as a building block for Mark Turgeon's program.
Many will see playing in the NIT — and the team's disappointing 17-15 season in general — as a stumbling block in what many hoped to be a breakthrough season in Turgeon's third year in College Park.
It's hard to ignore the fact that more than half of Maryland's losses came by four points or less in regulation — including a 67-65 defeat to the Seminoles — or went into overtime.
Also hard to ignore is that Maryland only won four of the 11 games it played that were that close, including just one of the past five. The only victory in that recent stretch was the overtime win over then-No. 5 Virginia on Sunday at Comcast Center.
Even Turgeon couldn't answer whether his team will be as excited to play in the NIT as it was a year ago, when the Terps advanced to the semifinals at New York's Madison Square Garden before losing to Iowa. But players said they would look forward to extending their season.
"Kids are resilient, coaches aren't quite as resilient, especially going through a season like this," Turgeon said after he saw the Seminoles win on a dunk on a dunk by center Boris Bojanovsky with 0.4 seconds remaining.
It is not a guarantee that the Terps will be among the 32 teams selected to the NIT. Regular season champions that don't win their respective conference tournaments are given first crack.
As of Tuesday, Maryland was expected to be a fourth seed, according to the Bracket Project, which predicts the NIT field similar to the way ESPN's Bracketology predicts the NCAA field.
"Hopefully we'll be [good] enough to be invited into the NIT," Maryland sophomore center Shaquille Cleare said. "We'll go to win it. You can't make no excuses. It might not be the NCAA, but it's still a chance to hang a banner, so we have to take advantage of it."
Cleare said that the NIT could be looked at as redemption for a season where "nothing ever went our way."
"Not to make excuses, but I think we've got to blame ourselves individually," Cleare said. "I'm not disappointed in my team this year. I'm mostly disappointed in myself."
Said junior guard Nick Faust: "We definitely didn't expect to end the season at 17-15. We thought we were a lot better than this. It's just a learning process, a building block for next year."
Faust (City) said he is looking forward to playing in the NIT as well as moving into the Big Ten next season.
"We're a young team," he said. "Next year we're going to be very mature and older — a lot of juniors and seniors. It's just a team ready to make this move and make an impact right away."
The Maryland fans who made the trip to the school's last ACC tournament seem to be generally in support of Turgeon despite the fact that the Terps have yet to make the NCAA tournament on his watch.
Randy Hoffmaster of Severna Park, a 1987 Maryland graduate, said he still has confidence that Turgeon can turn it around and make the Terps a perennial NCAA tournament team.
"He's got a fairly young team, no seniors [aside from little-used former walk-on John Auslander] and we've got a good [recruiting] class coming in," Hoffmaster said Thursday. "We've just had some tough games this year."
Athletic director Kevin Anderson, who signed Turgeon to an eight-year contract after Gary Williams retired suddenly in 2011, said the season was reminiscent of when he was at Stanford and Bill Walsh was in his final season as head football coach.
"He had a losing record (3-7-1), and anytime the ball bounced, it definitely didn't bounce our way," Anderson said. "Aytime there was a [crucial] call, the call didn't go our way. This was that kind of season."
Anderson said one should look no further than the game at Duke, where the Terps lost by two, in part because of a possession arrow that wasn 't changed in Maryland's direction.
"I don't think you might see that two or three other times this year if you see it at all," Anderson said.
Just as he did with football coach Randy Edsall, Anderson said, "I have the utmost confidence in Mark and what he's putting together as a program. We've got a great recruiting class coming in. We've got a lot to build on."
Having endured one of his most difficult seasons in his 16-year career as a Division I coach, Turgeon hasn't wavered in his thinking that the Terps will go back to being a perennial Top 25 team as they were for much of Williams' 22 seasons.
"My time's coming," Turgeon said. "We're going to keep doing what we believe in, and we're going to get this thing rolling at a high level. Hopefully we got all the bad luck out of the way this year."