GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Maryland men’s basketball team had little desire to discuss what lies beyond its latest crushing defeat, even though its immediate future is all but certain. For the fourth straight year, the Terrapins will miss the NCAA tournament. Failing to reach the quarterfinals here at Greensboro Coliseum – let alone win the whole thing – guaranteed that.
And so it appears, for the second straight season, they will try to salvage some pre-summer optimism in the National Invitation Tournament, getting place into a bracket on Selection Sunday, but not the bracket they had hoped. After Thursday’s early exit from the ACC tournament, losing 67-65 to Florida State on a buzzer-beating dunk, the Terps should still make the field of leftovers, with the ultimate goal now being a run to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in early April, just as they did last year.
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But the feeling is different. During last season’s ACC tournament, Maryland hammered Wake Forest and led Duke wire-to-wire before running out of gas against North Carolina in the semifinals. It entered the NIT hungry and motivated, ready to carry the momentum generated in Greensboro forward.
This season, the Terps flew into town, practiced at a nearby high school, went to bed, woke up, lost and left.
“Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen but I imagine we’re going to, like we’ve done all season, hopefully get better, hopefully get healthy,” Coach Mark Turgeon said when asked Thursday about the NIT.
None of the Terps’ players had any interest in talking about it either, beyond general promises that, for whatever lies ahead, they will play hard like they did against the Seminoles. Many fans have already begun clamoring for a possible NIT matchup with Georgetown, which would mark the first time the local programs would meet since an early-season neutral-site matchup in 2008, but Thursday’s aftermath was too crushing for Maryland to think about that, at least not yet.
“We just know that whatever it is, we’re going to give it our all and go hard and be focused,” forward Charles Mitchell said.
“I don’t know what’s going to be next,” center Shaq Cleare said. “Whatever comes next, we have to be prepared for it.”
Said point guard Seth Allen, “We haven’t talked about it.”
Later, Turgeon sounded as though he had already begun thinking ahead to next season, when a heralded recruiting class arrives and the Terps return every regular, their scholarship list stuffed to the maximum level. The expectations will grow even higher and an NCAA tournament bid will be necessary to satisfy a fan base that hasn’t seen one since 2010, so Turgeon invoked an old saying from an old friend to help him out.
“Kids are resilient,” he said. “Coaches aren’t quite as resilient, especially going through a year like this. I’m a lucky guy. I’m really blessed. I’m the guy who gets the bounce. I’m the guy who banks the shot in. I’m that guy and this year I haven’t been that guy. A long time ago, we had ‘the world is round,’ ” which Larry Brown, Turgeon’s mentor, once said as Kansas’s coach after Oklahoma had cut down the nets on the Jayhawks’ home court following a win that clinched the Big Eight regular season title in 1984.
This, in effect, was a way of saying everything will even out for Maryland, as a season with plenty of unfavorable breaks – a preseason injury to Allen, Turgeon’s starting point guard, and several missed shots late in games chief among them – nears its frustrating conclusion.
“My time is coming,” Turgeon said. “We’re going to win. 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’ve got all the bad luck out of the way this year.”