Head coach Mark Turgeon knew his Maryland men’s basketball team was headed into an extremely unusual season that was likely to include some cancellations and stoppages in play, but he was still taken aback last week when he found out that a Dec. 1 matchup with Monmouth was getting scrapped.
“I was a little like, ‘Oh, no, what are we going to do?’” Turgeon said Thursday night.
Darryl Morsell had trouble thinking back to that day or when it even was — so much had happened since. “There have been so many, I don’t even remember,” the senior guard said. “What was the first one?”
Even after being reminded, the moment was still a distant memory. Morsell leaned his head back a little, eyes moving back and forth, as he tried to jog his brain. “I don’t even remember how I found out about that one,” he said with a grin that almost perfectly acknowledged how absurd the past week or so has been.
Hours before the Terps’ season-opener on Nov. 25, Monmouth announced that a “tier one” member of its program, which includes student-athletes, coaches and support staff, had tested positive for coronavirus. Less than 24 hours later, a replacement game with Towson was set for the same time slot. But the day before that contest, the Tigers also had to cancel for COVID-19 safety measures.
Maryland then announced on Dec. 1, the day the originally canceled games were supposed to be played, that it would travel to face James Madison on Saturday. But the program wasn’t out of the woods just yet; the following day, Friday’s contest against George Mason was erased from the slate due to a positive test in the Patriots program. And shortly after, the Terps announced another scheduling change, this time with Saint Peter’s filling the Friday slot.
“This is something that we had taken away for us for eight months, and we love this game and we want to be able to play,” junior guard Aaron Wiggins said. “It’s obviously very different and it’s obviously tough, but you got guys who are willing to make sacrifices or willing to stay as healthy as possible and make sure that we’re able to play games.”
Around five weeks ago, Turgeon suggested during a meeting with the Big Ten that his team have a contingency list of opposing programs in the event of a cancellation; it has quickly been put to use.
Players and coaches came into the facility Monday ready to practice for their upcoming game against Towson, which they soon found out wouldn’t be taking place. Still, the team went through film and had a shootaround.
Turgeon and his staff then got into action as they sat around the table in his office, scrambling to make a move.
“All my assistants were calling people they knew. We looked at all the games that were canceled and we looked at the guys that weren’t — the game wasn’t canceled because of them, you know, it was because the other team had COVID,” Turgeon said. “So we called all those schools.”
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey tweeted Friday night that his team was in need of a nonconference opponent following the cancellation of its game against Western Michigan, due to an outbreak among the Broncos. Maryland reached out to see if a matchup could be rearranged with the Fighting Irish, but “it just didn’t fit,” Turgeon said.
However, within about three hours, the coaching staff had finalized the replacement game against James Madison, which players found out about over text. The program didn’t want to have a double-header with the women’s basketball game against Coppin State set for the same day (before that too was canceled), so the coaching staff opted to play on the road.
The process was a lot easier when George Mason canceled, with the staff able to turn to opponents it had already been in talks with to replace the Towson game. Within a half an hour or so, according to Turgeon, a contest with Saint Peter’s was set.
“I found out on social media about Saint Pete[r’s],” Morsell said, shaking his head in disbelief as he raised his eyebrows. “Like it’s just been crazy.”
Instead of looking at the situation as stressful, Turgeon has taken value in the extra time for his team to practice and rest after starting the season with three games in five days. If Tuesday’s contest hadn’t been canceled, it would have been four in seven days. Players instead got to take that day off, followed by two days of practice. “We needed it,” said Turgeon.
“It was probably a little bit harder on my scouting coaches,” the head coach said. “They watched film on Towson, they prepared for Towson. And then they were working on George Mason already, so it’s just extra work for them. And they have to dive in really quickly to St. Peters and another guy jumps on James Madison.”
In addition to an extra road game on the season slate, the schedule adjustment has the team playing back-to-back games this Friday and Saturday, something it would normally only face during a tournament. Turgeon thinks it will give the team a good head start.
Following its game against Saint Peter’s on Friday night, the Terps will get recovery and eat dinner before hopping on a bus to head down to Harrisonburg, Virginia. Turgeon hasn’t had a chance to see James Madison play, so he plans to watch film on the ride. Once there, players will go through a scouting report and walkthrough either that night or in the morning before the 3 p.m. game.
“We’ll definitely take this as like a Big Ten tournament or like an NCAA Tournament experience,” Morsell said. “But I think it’s good for the young guys to have the quick turnaround, watching film, running different scouts, just being flexible, like playing a different team so quick and stuff like that.”
Despite any challenges this early test brings, the players are just grateful they won’t miss an opportunity to get on the court and compete.
“The fact that our guys have been on top of it and finding new games for us to play, you know, that’s something that we love,” Wiggins said. “And we’re just trying to make sure that we’re ready to go, regardless of cancellations or change in schedule.”