Gary Williams: NIT will benefit young UVa, Maryland squads
Though its not the tournament they hoped for, Maryland will play postseason basketball this season. The Terps will host Niagara on Tuesday in the National Invitational Tournament.
After an exciting run at the ACC Tournament that included a 83-74 win over Duke, some wondered if the Terps could sneak into the NCAA Tournament. But when the at-large names were called Maryland learned they would not be in the field, and instead will open play in the NIT as a No. 2 seed.
“We all knew when we lost to North Carolina that we weren’t going to make the NCAA tournament,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said to the media. “We had 24 hours to digest it.”
Now Turgeon said his squad has gotten past the heartbreak of the narrow, last-second loss to the Tar Heels and is focused on the Purple Eagles.
“It’s a great time of year,” Turgeon said. “We’re lucky to still be playing.”
Dez Wells emerged for the Terps during the three-game run at the ACC Tournament, averaging 22 points per game and making the first team all-tournament team. Against the Heels, sophomores Alex Len and Nick Faust delivered strong performances.
In their last four games, Maryland has played some of its best basketball of the season. Even though two of those four games ended in losses – against Carolina and an overtime loss at Virginia – the young Terps squad seems to be playing at a different level than during an ugly stretch in January and February.
“It’s a young team. They feel good about the way they’re playing right now,” the coach explained.
The NIT will give Maryland a chance to play against strong competition in a tournament setting.
“There are a lot of really good teams in this [NIT] tournament that could win NCAA tourney games. It’s a chance to keep improving.”
Niagara comes into the game fresh off a 19-13 season with a 13-5 record in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Purple Eagles won the MAAC regular season, and head coach Joe Mihalich was named the conference’s Coach of the Year.
Maryland will need to focus defensively on Niagara’s dynamic backcourt of Juan’ya Green (16.8 ppg) and Antoine Mason (18.5 ppg). Both players landed on the first team All-MAAC list.
But Turgeon thinks his squad will be ready for the chalenege.
“I just feel like we're growing up,” Turgeon said. “I think we’ll be motivated.”