Amid the somber aftermath of another disappointment away from College Park, the Maryland basketball team trudged out of Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, loaded onto the team bus and, for the first time all season, returned to its hotel.
The road has been plenty unkind to the Terrapins throughout a chaotic season, and even less gracious to their sleep schedules. Win or lose, they bolt the opponents’ arena and head straight to the airport. Following a game that tipped off at 8 p.m. or later, a five-time occurrence during ACC play, Maryland’s charter plane doesn’t touch down in Baltimore until well past midnight, dawn far closer than dusk.
This week, however, represents uncharted territory for a team still clinging to faint hopes of an NCAA tournament bid. Saturday’s noon start at Wake Forest made returning home between games an impossibility, so Maryland instead will experience its only multiple-game trip this season. The Terps, 1-6 in ACC road games after a 78-68 loss to the Yellow Jackets, withstood a sobering film session and refocusing study hall Friday before flying to Wake Forest.
“We’re not going to make a habit of this, obviously,” Coach Mark Turgeon said via conference call. “It was a one-time deal . . . I do think we’ll be a little more rested because of it. When we’re doing basketball, we’re trying to concentrate. Outside, we’re trying to have fun with this trip. Really, a trip like this is preparing you for the postseason tournament, whether it’s the ACC or whatever happens beyond.”
Ah, that omnipresent, burning question: Will the Terps muster a late-season winning streak to catapult them into the NCAA tournament? Or will they continue to teeter between brilliance and ineptitude, fading away until the bubble finally pops?
Maryland hopes for the former. But given that it hasn’t won or lost three straight since ACC play began, history doesn’t exactly suggest a miraculous turnaround.
“Obviously we’re struggling, winning on the road, so priority No. 1 is when we have a road game next, to just get that win,” guard Logan Aronhalt said. “We’re not going to start a winning streak if we can’t win the next one. That’s the message from Coach, and I think the guys are pretty on top of it in terms of being focused and trying to get this next one.”
The next one is Wake Forest, an equally stingy home team that’s struggled away from Winston-Salem this season. The Demon Deacons dealt Miami its first conference loss in an 80-65 bludgeoning last Saturday, but suffered a 14-point loss at Florida State three days later.
Maryland tore through the teams’ last meeting, an 86-60 rout at Comcast Center, behind double-digit scoring from six players. But the ominous Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum has spelled doom for Virginia, Boston College, North Carolina State, Florida State and Miami this season. And if the Terps hauled the same lackluster effort and defensive disinterest from Atlanta, they — and their season — could be next.
“I still don’t concern myself with postseason, because we are going to be in postseason somewhere,” Turgeon said. “We’re 19-9, three games left and then the ACC tournament. So we’re going to have a winning record, we’ll have a chance to play in postseason. I don’t know what postseason we’ll play in, so we’re not concerned about that, which will be good for a young team right now. Ideally, we’re still chasing the big one, without really saying, ‘All right, we’ve got to do this or that.’ We don’t know what we need to do. Obviously we need to win. We need to win a lot of games. What we’re trying to do is play better.
“Am I disappointed? Yeah I think we should have one or two more wins on the road in our league. But we don’t. You keep striving, saying, ‘Guys, we’re a young team, but we’ve got a lot of guys coming back next year, we’ve got to get this thing figured out. Let’s not wait until next year to figure out this road thing; let’s figure it out right now.’ ”