COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) The up-and-down Maryland basketball team is already in must-win mode, even though postseason play doesn’t begin until next week.
Having ended a troubling slide with a win at Rutgers, the Terrapins close the regular season Saturday against Michigan State looking to clinch a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament
”There’s a lot at stake for us,” coach Mark Turgeon said Friday. ”It will mean a lot to our program if we can come out on top.”
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With a victory, Maryland (23-7, 11-6) will finish no worse than tied for second. A loss, however, could drop the Terrapins to a fifth seed in next week’s conference tournament.
Only the top four seeds receive the coveted double-bye, which provides an automatic berth in the quarterfinal round.
”It’s definitely important for us to go out and get this win,” said Maryland forward L.G. Gill, who will be honored before the game with center Damonte Dodd on Senior Day.
Despite starting three freshmen, the Terrapins got off to the best start in school history (20-2) and became a fixture in the Top 25. February began with a 73-72 home loss against Purdue, the eventual Big Ten champion, and the defeats kept on coming.
After a skid in which Maryland dropped five of seven, including three in a row, a visit to last-place Rutgers provided the positive vibe missing for much of the month. Outscoring the Scarlet Knights by 16 points in the second half, the Terrapins rolled to a 79-59 victory.
”The key thing about Rutgers is we played well. If we had won by one and not played well, it wouldn’t have felt the same,” Turgeon said. ”You want to be playing your best basketball. Every team goes through different things, but hopefully as we move forward here we can continue to gain confidence and keep getting better.”
Michigan State (18-12, 10-7) has won three straight against Maryland, and home-court advantage isn’t what it used to be for the Terrapins. Maryland is 4-4 on its court in Big Ten games, including losses to non-powers Nebraska and Iowa.
”We want to finish the home season the right way,” Turgeon said. ”It’s been different home year for us – not what we’ve been accustomed to.”
Regardless, Maryland’s overall performance has been far better than expected. Melo Trimble was the lone returning starter from the team that went to the Sweet 16 last year, and the Terps have also overcome a season-ending injury to 7-foot-1 center Michal Cekovsky, the tallest player on the squad.
”If we win we’ll finish tied for second. That would be pretty amazing, considering we were picked 10th,” Turgeon said. ”We’ve also got a couple seniors we want to send out on a good note.”
Dodd has already made two NCAA Tournament appearances with Maryland, and Gill transferred from Duquesne this season to get a whiff of postseason play.
”One of the things I wanted to do is play in the NCAA Tournament,” Gill said, ”and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to do it this year.”
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