INDIANAPOLIS – Melo Trimble kept his head up, but he looked dead ahead.
About a half-hour after Trimble capped a 2-of-15 shooting day with an excruciating missed lay-in attempt and a maybe-but-not-called foul on a long heave to tie the game, Maryland's locker room was somber. Trimble followed a strong game on Friday with a hard slog on Saturday, and his Maryland basketball team lost by three points to Michigan State. It was a fifth loss in eight games for Maryland, and Trimble knows what happens if there's even one more loss.
"We know we didn't get this one. We're not going to hang our head too down for Maryland," Trimble said. "There's a bigger thing we want to get, which is an NCAA Tournament."
The Terps are now 25-8. They've lost more games than anyone thought they would. Some will consider their season a failure if it ends anywhere shy of Houston, at the Final Four in April. But the Terps aren't being so declarative.
"To be honest with you, through the ebbs and flow of the season, you just kind of have to look at your last game," Rasheed Sulaimon said. "Sometimes you're going to play at your highest level. Sometimes you're not. We definitely had both throughout the whole season. Just looking at this game, I'm proud of everything we accomplished."
Maryland probably should be. The Terrapins lost by three points against a consensus Final Four contender and elite team, in a mostly green-clad arena after falling behind by 12 points in the first half. The Terps got more offensive rebounds than the rebounding-savvy Spartans, had fewer turnovers and would've won the game if any number of things had broken even a little bit differently. But they didn't, and the NCAA's selection committee doesn't much care for moral wins.
But Maryland says it's looking ahead to next week's NCAA Tournament with a positive eye. The team's players and coaches are unified on that front. Of course, teams say this no matter what their situation is – every No. 16 seed says it's got a chance to make noise, even though none ever has – but Maryland legitimately believes it, according to conversations with a couple of Terrapins when recorders weren't rolling. Maryland still has talent, and the Terps don't view themselves with the same cynical eye that watches them from the outside, including from press row.
"I think we are definitely where we have to be," Damonte Dodd said.
"We're very confident," Trimble said.
"The good thing about it: We still have another chance," Sulaimon said. "You've just gotta look at the bright side."
"There's no question, coaching staff, players, everybody involved in Maryland basketball feels really good," Mark Turgeon said. "Feels better than we did coming into this tournament. We wanted momentum. We wanted to beat Michigan State. We couldn't do it today. Maybe if we get them again in a couple weeks, we'll be good enough to beat them, but today we weren't. But we feel good about ourselves."
Turgeon allowed that Maryland has heard some of the negative sentiment written and spoken about it recently. If the Terps lose next weekend, before the Sweet 16, there will be an avalanche of it.
"When the expectations are so high and you're 25-8, you got 25 wins, and it's not good enough," Turgeon said, "sometimes, it puts young men in not a good place."
Defining success is a tricky thing. Defining failure is even trickier.
If Maryland falls on the Big Dance's opening weekend, though, it won't be complicated. The Terps know this, but they don't seem scared about it. Sulaimon said the team is "100 percent happy" about what it's accomplished so far. Where fans might see a waste of talent, Maryland sees an opportunity – a stone the Terps haven't had a chance to turn yet.
"I won't say our season is a success or a failure at this point," Sulaimon said. "We still have another tournament to go."