INDIANAPOLIS — The University of Maryland Terrapins, the preseason favorites to win the Big Ten, failed to achieve that goal over the weekend, leaving the conference championship on the table. But the Terps left here feeling confident about their chances in the NCAA tournament.
“There’s no question: coaching staff, players, everybody involved in Maryland basketball feels really good. Feels better than we did coming into (The Big Ten tournament),” head coach Mark Turgeon said.
The Terrapins (25-8) limped into the Big Ten tournament, losing four of their previous six games to end the regular season, but they looked to cure some of their ailments in the two contests against the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Michigan State Spartans.
On Friday night, Maryland defeated Nebraska with an impressive offensive showing, scoring a Big Ten team record-high 97 points.
On Saturday night, albeit in a losing effort, the Terps forced 13 Michigan State (28-5) turnovers and held sharpshooting Spartans guard Bryn Forbes to four points. Maryland also only allowed two MSU players to score in double figures.
The Spartans had only lost one game since February, but Maryland pushed them to the brink and had a few opportunities to win the game late.
“We just learned that we’re back, and we can compete with anybody,” the Terps’ Robert Carter said minutes after losing to Michigan State in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon. “It’s going to be a fun NCAA tournament.”
After the game, Maryland received high praise from longtime Michigan State head coach and Basketball Hall of Fame finalist Tom Izzo.
“I still think (Maryland) is the most talented team with the most NBA players,” Izzo said. “I think (Turgeon) has done a good job with them.”
The Spartans’ Denzel Valentine, national player of the year candidate, was equally impressed with Maryland after the game.
“They had a heck of a game plan,” Valentine said. “They forced us to do some things offensively that we’re not used to doing. They kind of took us out of our game.”
Turgeon said the high expectations made it harder for his team to just go out and play basketball. He said simplifying things and making practice more enjoyable was key going into the Big Ten tournament.
“We had a lot of fun this week in practice. We played games. We did a lot of different things just to try to get to relax,” Turgeon said.
Melo Trimble said the team was down on itself after the regular season and that this week was just about having fun.
The Terrapins are the fifth seed in the South region with No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Villanova. Kansas ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. Villanova and Maryland faced off in a preseason scrimmage.
No. 5 Maryland will play No. 12 South Dakota State (26-7) on Friday in Spokane, Wash. South Dakota State won the Summit Championship conference tournament.
South Dakota State made the NCAA tournament in 2012 and 2013. The Jackrabbits have never won a game in the NCAA tournament.
Maryland was a four seed last year and defeated Valparaiso in the opening round before bowing out in the Round of 32 against West Virginia.