The good news for Maryland is that Dez Wells emerged at season’s end as a rising star, and he should be back next season. The bad news is that Alex Len, who played one of his best college games Saturday and has learned to use his 7-foot-1 body around the basket, isn’t likely to be back. A slew of other players will return, but the Terrapins still need far more consistent play from the point guard position.
Turgeon readily admits that he has been tough on his players this season. He can get very cranky when things don’t go as he thinks they should. A year ago he made it crystal clear that he wasn’t thrilled with many of the players Gary Williams left him, notably Terrell Stoglin — who was his best player and his biggest headache. After a bad loss at Virginia in which Stoglin played poorly, Turgeon shook his head and said, “I’m just not sure how much longer I can coach that little guard.”
Stoglin is long gone now. Only two players on this year’s team — junior Pe’Shon Howard and senior James Padgett (who played a total of nine minutes this weekend) — played for Williams. On Saturday, Turgeon talked about how pleased he was with the progress the program had made in two years, in two months and in the past two weeks.
Two well-played games, even when one is a loss, can improve a coach’s mood considerably. On Thursday night, after finally pulling away from a bad Wake Forest team in the first round of the tournament, Turgeon stood in an empty hallway clearly not certain how he felt about the season.
“It’s March 14th and there are times I feel like we’re still searching,” he said. “It gets really frustrating.”
A pause. “We’re really so much better though than last year,” he said. “That’s made it a lot easier to coach.”
Another pause. “Who knows, maybe we can win the NIT.”
One more change of direction: “I know we’ll come to play tomorrow [against Duke]. I’d just like to have the chance to see if we can put two good games together.”
His team came to play against Duke and gave itself that chance. But the team’s goals — a win over North Carolina and a possible NCAA tournament berth — didn’t pan out.
That’s why Turgeon didn’t want a celebration after the Duke game. When a program truly comes of age, it celebrates a big win as if it has been there before.
When Maryland beat Duke on Feb. 16, the fans stormed the Comcast Center court and Turgeon cried tears of joy. The Terrapins came a long way in four weeks. But the journey back isn’t over yet.
For more by John Feinstein, go to www.washingtonpost.com/feinstein.