(AP) – Locked in a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten, No. 16 Maryland heads into the home stretch of the regular season with a decidedly favorable schedule.
The Terrapins’ next three games are at home, where they’re 15-1. After hosting struggling Nebraska on Thursday night, Maryland (21-5, 9-4) faces No. 5 Wisconsin on Tuesday before wrapping up the rare homestand against Michigan on Feb. 28.
”It’s weird having three in a row at home. It doesn’t happen very often,” coach Mark Turgeon said Wednesday.
It couldn’t happen soon enough for the Terrapins, who lost three straight on the road by a combined 59 points before squeezing past host Penn State on Saturday.
In contrast, Maryland has outscored its opposition by an average of 12.5 points at home. Since losing to Virginia on Dec. 3, the Terps have rattled off 10 consecutive wins on their home court.
”I think it’s a confidence thing,” junior forward Jake Layman said. ”Having your fans behind you lifts you up a little bit, having them get into it rather than being on the road, where everyone’s against you.”
At home, the baskets are familiar, the crowd is friendly and the travel is minimal. What’s not to like?
”We’ve had some long nights on the road,” Turgeon said. ”Penn State, we got home at 4 in the morning because of the weather. Being home should help us in a lot of ways.”
Off the court, too.
”It should help our academics more than anything, just being home and not traveling,” Turgeon said. ”This time of year you really worry about that as a coach, that the kids don’t get too far behind. For us to be home for almost two straight weeks is huge.”
Senior Dez Wells, the unquestioned team leader, will make sure his teammates won’t lose their edge during the so-called home stretch.
”I hope we don’t get comfortable,” he said. ”Hopefully everybody stays on their toes and ready.”
Although Nebraska (13-12, 5-8) has lost five of six, Maryland has no reason to be overconfident after winning its last three home games by a combined nine points.
”We’re worried about Nebraska and getting ready for them,” Turgeon said. ”Hopefully play well and go from there.”
If the game is close, Maryland won’t panic. The Terps are 7-0 in games decided by six points or fewer, including a 68-66 nail biter over Indiana last week before the win at Penn State.
”We’re obviously very confident in close games,” Turgeon said. ”A lot of it’s because guys step up and make free throws, they execute offensively and then when we have to get stops, we get stops. I think we all feel comfortable in those type of situations.”
After this stretch of three home games, the Terps close out the season at last-place Rutgers and at Nebraska. That bodes well for a team looking to earn no worse than a second seed in its first Big Ten tournament.
”We don’t talk about the standings, we don’t talk about rankings, we just talk about trying to get better and beating Nebraska,” Turgeon said. ”That’s kept us focused.”
It’s been a while since the Cornhuskers found themselves in a close game. The last six during this rocky stretch have been decided by double digits, and Nebraska has shot 35.1 percent – 9 of 54 from 3-point range – in its three straight defeats after Sunday’s 66-54 loss at Purdue.
The Cornhuskers have been outrebounded 121-91 during those three losses.
This is the first meeting between these two programs.