Terps begin ACC title quest against Wake

Terps begin ACC title quest against Wake
March 13, 2013, 10:30 pm
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GEICO SportsNet Central Update: Turgeon, Terps ready for ACC Tourney

After a series of devastating losses late in the regular season, Maryland’s final hope to make the NCAA Tournament will require bringing home the ACC Tournament championship.

The Terrapins begin that quest Thursday night against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, a team the Terps experienced success against this season. Maryland faced the Deacs twice this season, winning both by double digits.

“I’m sure they’re fired up to play us, and my whole deal is just getting my guys’ mindset that Wake is going to come after us, and we have to be ready for it,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said to the media.

For Turgeon, the ACC Tournament may not be as much about ripping off a four-game win streak to make the Big Dance as it is continuing the upward trajectory of the Terps program.

“I came here to build a great program and we’re taking steps towards that,” the second-year coach said. “We’re much further along than I anticipated at this point in time. I want to finish strong.”

Maryland suffered many tough losses this season -- like a last second buzzer beater at the hands of Michael Snaer and Florida State in January -– but none hurt as bad as the regular season finale at Virginia.

Maryland dominated the first half against the Cavaliers opening up a big lead, but slowly the more experienced Virginia side chipped away at the Terps lead in the second half.

Down two with less than 10 seconds to play, Virginia freshman center Mike Tobey scored in the paint to tie the score and send the game to overtime. Tobey would eventually bury the Terps NCAA bubble hopes with another tip in the overtime period, and Virginia never trailed again.

With the loss, Maryland was effectively eliminated from the at-large discussion with a record of 21-10, 8-10 in conference. A weak non-conference strength of schedule and road woes in conference play hurt the Terps resume.

Still, for a young team, the loss at Virginia stings.

“That was the worst I’ve seen our guys hurt after the game so we’re getting somewhere,” Turgeon said. “They’re investing a lot more into our program, and the young guys are starting to grow up.”

Conference tournaments offer young teams like Maryland, who have seven freshmen and sophomores getting significant playing time, the opportunity to grow. Sophomores Dez Wells and Nick Faust know the opportunity that the tournament in Greensboro allows.

“It’s really dangerous when you get to tournament time because you don’t have to be the best team, you just have to be the best team on a given night for 40 minutes,” Wells said. “That’s something that really makes the tournament so interesting to watch.”

A pair of guards lead Wake Forest, C.J. Harris and Travis McKie. Harris averages more than 15 points a game, McKie almost 14, and both can shoot the 3-pointer. Maryland has proven that their size can overpower the Deacons, and perimeter defense has proven effective shutting down Wake in the two previous contests. 

“The only thing we can control is our effort,” Wells said. “If we give 100 percent and we keep fighting, keep getting after it, keep scratching and clawing, I think we can see some positive results.”

If Maryland gets by Wake, the reinvigorated Duke Blue Devils await on Friday. When the Terps last faced the Devils, Maryland prevailed 83-81. Since then, injured forward Ryan Kelly returned, and legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has his team looking for a deep March run.

While Terps fans would love to see another matchup with the Devils – Maryland split two games this season with Duke – the team should be careful not to overlook Wake. 

The crowd in Greensboro will be representing many different teams, but the Terps should expect uniform hostility from the ACC partisans angry at Maryland’s decision to leave the conference for the Big Ten. For many years, playing in the ACC Tournament in North Carolina saw the Terps suffer from embarrassing early-round exits, and any loss of focus against Wake could lead to a similar result.

“We’ve got a Wake Forest team that’s going to be inspired to play against us because we’ve beaten them twice,” Turgeon said. “If we’re lucky enough to win that one, we’ll go from there. We just want to finish strong.”