Eight days ago, with Easter Sunday still more than a month down the road, the Maryland men’s basketball team got a head start on the festivities and laid an egg at Boston College. The Terrapins had mental blocks and shots swatted. Loose balls squirted across the Conte Forum hardwood, each a reminder that Maryland’s season goals were quickly slipping from its grasp.
Now, with four games remaining before the ACC tournament, the Terps must rediscover their sense of urgency for a stretch run that could either reroute their season or sink it further.
“I hope there’s a sense of urgency out of our guys on Wednesday night,” Coach Mark Turgeon said Tuesday, a day before Maryland visits Georgia Tech. “I kind of sensed it in practice the last couple days. Attention to details, scouting report, practicing hard, competing. I feel it. Doesn’t mean we’ll go on the road and win. But if they don’t have it now, it’s kind of scary. They should have a great sense of urgency. We didn’t play well against Boston College. Hope we do tomorrow.”
Even scarier is the proposition of missing out on the NCAA tournament, a goal that seemed so attainable in early January. Ever since hammering Virginia Tech in their conference opener, the Terps (19-8, 7-7) have alternately soared and stumbled through their ACC gantlet. They beat ranked teams North Carolina State and Duke at home, but Florida State swept a home-and-home series. Then Boston College, which has only four ACC wins this season, ran away from Maryland in the second half last week.
Now the Terps must navigate the tricky line between competing with urgency and overzealous play, the latter a characteristic that’s defined Turgeon’s young team all season.
Some Terps are content to ignore talk of where Maryland will be playing in late March.
“We just have to take one game at a time,” freshman Shaquille Cleare said. “We shouldn’t be worried about the tournament right now. If we get there, good. But we have to worry about one game at a time. Eventually, we’ll get there. But we have to continue to be focused. Don’t worry about the tournament, worry about Georgia Tech tomorrow night.”
Others, especially those who have experienced the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament before, realize time is running out. For a team that hasn’t experienced a three-game winning streak (or losing streak) since reeling off 13 straight in November, December and January, it’s now or never.
“Tournament play is coming around,” sophomore guard Nick Faust said. “We definitely want to be there. So just trying to do whatever we can to stay positive and head in the right direction.”
One win won’t redefine or even resettle the Terps, but they certainly needed the emotional stabilization that came with their 72-59 victory over Clemson. Four freshmen combined for 33 points. Faust, forever the unpredictable producer on offense, scored a season-high 18, while Dez Wells dished out seven assists for the second time in three games. This calm arrived following a three-game swing that included a loss to Virginia that Turgeon called “rock bottom,” a court-storming win over Duke and, of course, the egg-laying at Boston College.
With just one ACC road win this season, the Terps now travel for two straight – at Georgia Tech (14-12, 4-10) and Wake Forest (12-14, 5-9). They will not return home to College Park in between. Dropping either could all but end Maryland’s hopes of an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. Within a remarkably weak at-large field and fluctuating bubble, however, victories simply mean another day of survival.
“I think it’s doing something that we haven’t done in a long time here,” said freshman Charles Mitchell, an Atlanta native who grew up a 20-minute walk from Georgia Tech’s campus. “Everybody wants to play in the NCAA tournament, and we haven’t been here in three or four years. We want to bring that back to Maryland and that’s our goal.”