Charles Mitchell had always fancied himself a jolly, grinning sophomore forward, and on Wednesday night he found some company. As the fortunes of the Maryland men’s basketball team shifted from apocalyptic to favorable against Notre Dame, a halftime intervention was credited with keeping everyone loose. Mitchell noticed his smiles were spreading and found it weird.
Several days after the second-half comeback helped the Terrapins (11-7, 3-2 ACC) avoid another disastrous defeat, intensity returned to Comcast Center as they readied to visit North Carolina State (11-7, 1-3) on Monday. Practices were long and tough because, while Coach Mark Turgeon wanted to maintain morale, he also knew Monday night will present something entirely different, a chance to buck a nasty trend of conference road failures.
“It’s time,” Turgeon said. “It’s never easy on the road. No matter who you’re playing, when you’re playing, it’s never easy. So we’ve got to figure out a way to play better out there. That’s really the next step for us.”
Since Gary Williams retired and Turgeon took over, the Terps are 4-16 in ACC road games. Earlier this month, they lost to Florida State and Pittsburgh by 44 points combined, and a brief mental lapse caused Turgeon to forget they had beaten Boston College on the road in the ACC opener last month.
Trips offer all manner of challenges, from sleeping in unfamiliar beds to long afternoons in the hotel to playing before hostile crowds at late-night start times, and Maryland is still trying to make it all work. So Turgeon planned a team dinner after the flight into Raleigh, N.C. Maybe the Terps would watch the NFC championship game on television or watch a movie together.
With an entire work day between the noon shoot-around and 9 p.m. tip-off, Turgeon has preached sustained focus, something echoed by the veterans on his roster.
“We definitely need to get this road win, and it comes with maturity,” guard Nick Faust said. “Making this jump can set us up for a good season. We want to look back on the N.C. State game and say that really boosted us.
“It’s just being against adversity. Usually the refs are on the home-court side, the fans are into it, things like that. You have to have the mentality to fight through and push through.”
Within an unpredictable ACC, in which Clemson (4-1) has a better conference record than Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Florida State and the Wolfpack, the Terps can expect peaks and valleys over the coming months. But if they want their NCAA tournament hopes to remain alive — already a dubious notion given nonconference losses to Boston University and Oregon State — success in enemy arenas must begin soon.
“Everyone has that mental thing where we expect to win at home,” Mitchell said. “We want to become a team where we expect to win on the road.”
Maryland has reached such crossroads before, when defeats beget triumphant turnarounds and some new trick gets recognized for the change. A players-only meeting helped bring the Paradise Jam championship in November. Christmas break, Turgeon said, “was the best thing” for the Terps, and they responded with a three-game winning streak.
Now fun has entered the equation. Down nine points against the Fighting Irish at intermission, Turgeon told his players to stop worrying about mistakes and laugh everything off. Had that not happened, “we’d be searching,” Turgeon said. Instead, an eight-point victory helped carry the feel-good vibes into Sunday.
“We’ve worked them really hard this week,” Turgeon said. “Today wasn’t our best practice, but the two previous days were really good practices. Hopefully it’s given them confidence. Now it’s a different animal going back on the road.”