After practice Friday afternoon, the Maryland men’s basketball players returned to their apartments and began thinking about the holidays. They packed their suitcases for flights home and scheduled rides to the airport. They dreamed of seeing family and unwrapping presents. That’s because once Boston University rolled into town for Saturday’s game, all notions of Christmas would henceforth be banned from the building.
“We have a rule,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Today they can talk about Christmas. . . . When we wake up tomorrow, I cannot hear the word Christmas until the game’s over.”
Jokingly dubbed “a Grinch” by guard Dez Wells for his Scrooge-like decree, Turgeon expressed real concerns for how the Terrapins (7-4) would respond from a week-long layoff. After narrowly avoiding an upset loss against Florida Atlantic, they broke for final examinations, taking two days off with shoot-arounds and light practices in between.
Now they play host to the Terriers (6-5), preseason favorites in the Patriot League, with Christmas and all its trimmings on their minds. That’s why Turgeon issued his mandate, why Friday was reserved for loading luggage, why Wells began his interview session by grinning and saying, “I can’t say the C-word.”
Maryland entered its break on a two-game winning streak, including a road victory in its ACC opener at Boston College. Turgeon kept busy by recruiting and attending speaking engagements. His players had tests to take and grades to fret over.
“It’s good,” Turgeon said of the break. “Our guys seem fresher mentally right now than we did. It was a good break. But that week prepares us for down the road.”
Both sides should be fresh Saturday afternoon. The Terriers have lost three straight, including two in overtime, but last played Dec. 15, the day after Maryland topped Florida Atlantic. Spry point guard Maurice Watson leads his conference in field goals (69), steals (23) and assists per game (6.5).
Turgeon, meanwhile, appears to have struck gold with his latest lineup iteration; the Terps are 2-0 with freshman Roddy Peters starting at point guard and Nick Faust coming off the bench. Against a thin Boston University front court that ranks as the nation’s second-worst shot-blocking team, Maryland might be able to attack the rim at will, though the Terriers might play zone to force the Terps to beat them from beyond the arc.
Ultimately, three upcoming games against Boston University, Tulsa and North Carolina Central will close the calendar year with strong mid-major tests for Maryland.
“Just getting all of our work out of the way now, being able to focus on the game,” sophomore Jake Layman said.
First-half focus hasn’t been a strong attribute for the Terps this season. They entered halftime behind by one point against Abilene Christian, tied against Oregon State and only up six against Marist. They have fought from behind (against George Washington) and gotten blown out (Ohio State), but only against Morgan State have they taken care of business from the tip and coasted to an easy victory.
So taking care of business against Boston University would give Turgeon his 300th career victory, a milestone he wanted no part of discussing. Win or lose, though, one word will return to lexicon of Turgeon and his players.
“Once we get this win, then I’m pretty sure he’ll be all smiles,” Wells said. “Until then, he’s going to try to keep his straight face, which is pretty hard for him because he’s a fun-loving guy.
“[I’ll] think about the C-word after the game.”
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