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Maryland basketball’s loss to Purdue was more encouraging than disheartening

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The Terps are realer than we thought.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland basketball didn’t make a single field goal in the final 7:37 of a game against KenPom’s No. 12 team and lost by just one point, with a chance to win at the buzzer.

The Terrapins led Purdue for 37 minutes, held a 7’2 center to nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, and stayed in a game Melo Trimble shot 4-of-15 in. The loss “dropped” the Terps to 20-3.

Maryland didn’t pull off the big win that media and fans have been crying for, but to just take the loss as a crushing one defeats the entire purpose of this season. The 2015-16 Terrapins were supposed to cut down the nets in Houston. This team was supposed to lay out a foundation for the future and compete, which it’s done and then some.

Things are infinitely better than they could have been in College Park, and that’s a forgotten fact with the recent “surging Terps” narrative growing.

Maryland drew attention in early February for not drawing enough attention as a legitimate contender despite a two-loss record. That was mostly justified because it’s no secret that the Terps aren’t as good as their win/loss tally suggests. It’s well documented by now that they’ve played a relatively weak strength of schedule, but have a knack for pulling out close wins.

So what? Maryland might not be one of the best 25 teams in the nation like the number next to their name on the bottom of the ESPN ticker says. But KenPom still claims they’re a top-40 one, and that’s pretty damn incredible.

The Terps have zero former five-star recruits. They lost four starters from a season ago, including the only recruit they brought in for the 2016 class. Coach Mark Turgeon was forced to give a recruiting pitch even he couldn’t fully lay out given the unknown futures of Robert Carter Jr., Diamond Stone and Trimble and he still landed three top-100 players. Justin Jackson is seeming more and more like a potential one-and-done as conference play progresses.

Turgeon’s recruiting deserves an award of its own, but more impressively, he’s led this team into a formidable one, though he’s playing a group of fresh faces who are either months removed from high school or used to the bench. And they’ve been competitive throughout.

As a recruit on the outside looking in, who wouldn’t want to join an over-performing team set to retain its core should Trimble play his final year of eligibility? The team sports a top-50 offense and defense in the league, according to KenPom and has wins over a pair of top-30 overall teams (Oklahoma State and Kansas State).

Maryland is still searching for the big win, and Saturday’s loss was for sure frustrating and disappointing. But this unit is far ahead of schedule.