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Terps Look To Put Postseason Struggles Behind Them In Big Ten Tournament

March 14, 2019
The last time the Maryland men's basketball team won a Big Ten tournament game was in 2016, when the Terps defeated Nebraska before losing in the semifinals to Michigan State. Just two players still on the team -- seniors Andrew Terrell and Ivan Bender, who were freshmen at the time -- were part of that team.

In fact, Terrell and Bender are the only Terps who have won a postseason game at all. For sophomore center Bruno Fernando, the goal heading into this year's Big Ten tournament is simple.

"Win," the center said ahead of Maryland's opening matchup against Nebraska Mar. 14. "I want to get a ring. It's a tournament where we've got to try to get as many wins as we can. … We've got a chance to make history."

Two years ago, Maryland was easily defeated in Washington, D.C., by a hot Northwestern team that would go on to earn its first NCAA tournament bid in program history. Last year, the Terps lost to Wisconsin in their opening conference tournament game.

"We're disappointed we lost a couple close games the last two years, especially the one in D.C.," said head coach Mark Turgeon. "We really wanted to win there, but Northwestern was playing much better basketball than we were at the time."

Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell recalled the frustration he felt after last year's loss to the Badgers in which the Terps tied the game on three straight possessions but were doomed by a late turnover.

"I just remember that feeling in the locker room after the game, just knowing that your season was over," Morsell said of the Wisconsin loss. "I don't want to feel that this year."

For the five freshmen in Maryland's eight-man rotation, the lack of experience could benefit them, Turgeon said.

"Sometimes you have that rookie mentality where you don't know any better, you just go play. I think our guys have kind of done that all year," he said.

One of those freshmen, guard Eric Ayala, said the team hasn't really discussed previous tournaments. Instead, the focus has been about addressing the minute details -- like boxing out, diving after loose balls and transition defense -- that could decide a close conference tournament game.

"We know we've got a lot of things to work on," Ayala said. "We want to make our season go longer than where we are at now."

Turgeon said bench players like freshmen Aaron Wiggins, Serrel Smith Jr. and Ricky Lindo Jr. must play meaningful minutes in order for his team to make a run.

"If we are going to win a championship, we've got to win four games in four days," Turgeon said. "We're going to have to have a little bit of depth. And we have to have quality depth. [We] just can't play depth to play, they've got to come and hold their own and be good."

With Maryland's successful regular season now behind it -- the Terps finished fifth in the conference (13-7) and 22-9 overall -- the slate is wiped clean, Fernando said. Every team starts with the same record: 0-0.

"The records don't matter anymore," Fernando said. "Everybody is trying to win a championship and everyone's going to come in and bring their 'A' game, so we've got to make sure we come in and do our best and [play to] the best of our ability to make sure that happens for us."

The team's preparation for the physically demanding upcoming run of games has been keyed by strength and conditioning coach Kyle Tarp, Ayala said.

"He's been making sure we've been getting a lot of carbs," he said. "Just kind of eating that extra meal just to have that energy to play three games or however many we may play."

Sleep and ice baths will be integral to staying in peak condition, too, as the grueling postseason wears on, Morsell said.

"That's all Kyle. All recovery, ice baths," he said. "Sleep is very important, that's the natural way of letting your body recover."

But once the games start, how many extra meals were eaten or how many naps were taken don't really matter.

It's all about playing the game they've played their entire lives, Morsell said.

"For the freshman, I just tell them to stay calm and stay relaxed. At the end of the day it's basketball," he said. "As a team I just hope we play well, stay together through all the adversity we're going to face. Of course, the goal is to win a championship but we're just taking one game at a time."

NOTEBOOK

TERPS FINISH OFF DIFFICULT SCHEDULE: Following the 69-60 win against Minnesota Mar. 8, the Terps (22-9) capped a successful season in which many experts predicted they would struggle. According to CBS Sports, Maryland played the 12th most difficult schedule in the country, winning five conference road games after managing just two such wins a year ago. The Terps' 8-1 home conference record was their best since 2015-16.

JOE LUNARDI HAS MARYLAND AS A FIFTH SEED: ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi is projecting Maryland as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. If the tournament started today, the Terps would face No. 12 seed Murray State and Ja Morant, a potential NBA lottery pick, according to Lunardi. Of course, a major run in the Big Ten tournament could push Maryland further up in the ranks ahead of Selection Sunday.

THREE TERPS EARN BIG TEN HONORS: Bruno Fernando was named to the first-team All-Big Ten and All-Defensive teams Mar. 11. It was also announced that Fernando is one of five finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award, given to the country's top center, and named to the Sporting News All-American team. Anthony Cowan earned second-team All-Big Ten honors; he earned third-team honors last season. And Jalen Smith was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.

FERNANDO HONING IN ON DOUBLE-DOUBLES RECORD: Fernando's 11 points and 11 rebounds in the regular season finale against Minnesota Mar. 8 gave him 20 on the season and tied him with program legend Joe Smith for third most in a season. The school record is held by Jordan Williams, who notched 25 in 2010-11. Fernando has a chance to match or break that record if the Terps can make a run in the Big Ten tournament and NCAA Tournament.

COWAN MARCHING TOWARD TOP 25 IN SCORING: After a 21-point effort in the regular season finale against Minnesota, Anthony Cowan needs just 17 points to pass Tony Massenburg (1,354 points) for 25th place on the Maryland all-time scoring list. It was the eighth time this year he's gone for 20-plus points and 15th time in his career.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox