Maryland was focused on momentum vs. Michigan State, not NCAA Tournament

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Tyler Byrum
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Terps focused on momentum, not NCAA Tournament, in win vs. Spartans originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

By several accounts, this year's Maryland Terrapins team overperformed their season's expectations.

Without a clear-cut star, they notched big wins on the road this season building an impressive resume for NCAA Tournament consideration. But in the final week of the regular season, Maryland suffered two brutal losses. A successful season had hit a speed bump against two of the worst teams in the conference.

Entering the Big Ten Tournament and a matchup with No. 9 seed Michigan State, which many prognosticators proclaimed a key bubble contest, head coach Mark Turgeon was concerned. 

Not concerned about the Terps' tournament hopes, though. Turgeon still figured his team was in after losses to Northwestern and Penn State to conclude the regular season. But he was worried about the team's momentum and swagger at the most crucial time of the season. 

"I'm not gonna lie to you, I was a little worried about our confidence and our swagger coming into this game," Turgeon told the media postgame. "Those last two losses stunned us, kind of gutted us, and then Michigan State came out hot and we're down 12. "

The offense wasn't pretty and no one up or down the roster had a good shooting performance, but they did enough to secure the comeback and win in a resounding fashion. No. 8-seed Maryland toppled Michigan State and put any of the tournament resume questions to bed.

Those questions Turgeon felt were unjustified after what the team had accomplished this season. Sensing the momentum slipping away after the two losses, he told his players on Monday in a Zoom call that they were in the tournament. He told them they were good and didn't have to worry about any added pressure to perform just to continue their season. 

"I felt before today that we were going to be in the NCAA Tournament. I didn't feel pressure like we had to win the day and then players didn't either," Turgeon said. 

"I don't really think for us we felt like our backs were against the wall," junior Aaron Wiggins said. "We had the two losses in the regular season, but it was just a matter of us bouncing back. We wanted to come out here and show that we're still one of those top teams in our conference and we're here to compete, so we came out here we did a good job getting the win." 

Relying on their defensive intensity -- which has been a staple this year -- the Terps got back into the contest with an immediate 18-4 run after they fell down by double digits. The biggest pendulum swing came when senior Resse Mona checked in and got the team back to its identity. 

Mona just played 12 minutes and didn't record a single point, but his injection onto the court provided the spark they needed. 

"I want to brag about Reese Mona. Reese Mona, he really flipped it. He went in there and he just guarded," Turgeon said. "And we weren't great offensively again, but during that stretch Reese just kept his toughness, his defense was just incredible during that stretch. I think that rubbed off on a lot of guys." 

Whether it was Mona in his handful of defensive possessions or timely turnovers resulting in points, Maryland reclaimed momentum. Lulls have cost the Terps on multiple occasions this year. Somehow, they always found a way to rally in their next big game. 

On Friday in the Big Ten quarterfinals, Maryland is going to need all the momentum it can get against projected NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed Michigan. The Wolverines have beaten the Terrapins twice this season. 

"I think we're a bunch of warriors," junior forward Jarius Hamilton said. "We've always had our backs against the wall throughout this year, we've had a lot of down periods, but we always found a way to respond. We got that grit, we got that toughness inside of us."

While the start was worrisome, it showed Turgeon an element he hasn't seen from his team all year. Being able to come back, take control and win with some unorthodox play (39% of their points came off Spartans' turnovers) was a new winning formula for Maryland. 

Momentum has certainly swung back after a five-game winning streak turned into two crushing losses. Turgeon and the Terps just need to find a way to keep it this time. 

"That's a really good sign for us because we haven't done that a lot this year," Turgeon said. "When we're not playing great just to really turn it on. We could do it [with] last year's team but this year's team hadn't been able to do it. So it's a real positive for us that we were able to do it today."