Rested Terps gear up for NIT quarterfinals

Five days should be enough. Right?

Six games in 12 days sent the Maryland basketball team into what now qualifies as an extended break, gassed and ready for the weekend. First came the ACC tournament, two days of emotional triumph and a third filled with heartbreak. The National Invitational Tournament turnaround was swift, with wins Tuesday and Thursday over Niagara and Denver, two teams that forced the Terrapins into a press-heavy, run-much small lineup.

Coach Mark Turgeon called it “guts,” saying “our guys just didn’t want it to end.” But really, they had no choice but to empty the tank one more time.

Alabama, with its slow tempo and top-notch defense that ranks 20th nationally according to Kenpom.com, will provide a similar challenge.

“It’s going to be big,” Logan Aronhalt said Thursday. “We’re deep, we have a couple guys who are banged up. It’s late in the season, it’s a long year, so I know we’re definitely going to take advantage of the time off. It’ll give us a little time to regroup. I don’t think we ever really got time to regroup from the ACC tournament. That was tough emotionally. So it gives us a little time away from the game to get your head cleared.”

Turgeon gave the Terps Friday off. But he’d be well served keeping that small lineup in his arsenal. The Crimson Tide rotate 7-foot-0 Moussa Gueye, but he plays just 15.5 minutes per game. Other than the junior center, no regular is taller than 6 foot 8.

Until Turgeon went five guards, playground style, against Denver, the Pioneers imposed their will defensively, doubling the post and leaving Maryland’s front court helpless. So the Terps ran, without any set plays. Four out, with Dez Wells in the post. Isolation drives and backyard tactics won the game, but it also left the team longing for a rest.

“I feel like we play as much as we practice now,” point guard Pe’Shon Howard. “It’ll be good to have a nice rest, so I can sleep in for a few days.”

The players spent Saturday taking extra shots and reconditioning themselves for another difficult task, but with an enticing reward at the end. Winning means a trip to Madison Square Garden in New York City for the NIT semifinals and a chance to bookend their season in the Big Apple.

At least one player was ready to go.

“He gave us a break,” Seth Allen said. “I don’t need a break.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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