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No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball is setting itself apart with a knack for comebacks

The Terps are the first Power-5 team in 15 seasons with multiple 14-point second-half comebacks.

Maryland v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

There are always those teams in sports that leave us shaking our heads in disbelief. The ones that leave us in awe of their resiliency, their toughness and their overall ability to pull out wins no matter the circumstance. These are the types of teams that often go on to do great things and leave a lasting legacy.

No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball has proven to be that kind of team this season, especially so over the past three weeks. This is not to make any bold statements or projections, as we’ve clearly seen that anything can happen in this college basketball season, but there’s no denying the grit of the 2019-20 Terps — especially after they overcame a 14-point deficit against then-No. 20 Illinois in a hostile road environment to jump to the top of the toughest conference in the country.

“We kind of restated that we’re a resilient team, we’re a tough team, and regardless of how a game’s going for us, that we can bounce back from anything,” sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins said Monday. “It just shows our toughness and our grit as a team and how much we really want it. We more so just reminded ourselves of our passion and our toughness and how good we can really be.”

Maryland has faced a deficit of 14 points or more in five games this season and has managed to launch comebacks to win three of them. The two losses — at Seton Hall and Iowa, who are now ranked No. 10 and No. 21, respectively — both came before the Terps hit their recent stride. Two of the three wins — against Northwestern and the Fighting Illini — have come over the past three weeks, both of which were on the road.

Especially at today’s college level, teams often simply don’t have what it takes to mount such victories, but Maryland has found a way to do so over and over again. And this group is the first Power-5 team to overcome multiple deficits of at least 14 points in a second half since the 2004-05 season.

The 2019-20 Terps are also head coach Mark Turgeon’s first team over his Maryland tenure to fight back from being down at least 14 points more than once in a single season. And his squads have faced an average of nearly six such situations each year.

Turgeon’s Terps in regular season deficits

Season Deficits faced of 14-points or more Record in those games
Season Deficits faced of 14-points or more Record in those games
2011-12 7 0-7
2012-13 6 0-6
2013-14 7 1-6
2014-15 6 1-5
2015-16 4 1-3
2016-17 5 1-4
2017-18 6 1-5
2018-19 5 1-4
2019-20 5 3-2

“We’re a relentless team. We always fight, even if we’re down — God forbid if we’re down like 30 points — we’re always gonna fight back and just break their lead back down and try to get the win,” Jalen Smith said. “And just knowing that this team always does what we need to do when the time comes, it’s a lot of relief on the coaches. ... We’re just out there playing every game and just executing to the best of our ability.”

The Terps know they weren’t doing so earlier this season, that they didn’t have the right mentality or confidence in three of their four losses. That has driven them to step things up over the past month, but they also remain motivated by last year’s loss to LSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and a hunger to make a championship run this time around.

And they’ve already shown that they’re more equipped to handle what has often been this program’s downfall in the postseason.

In both of Maryland’s postseason losses last year — including a 69-61 loss against Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament and a heartbreaking 69-67 defeat to LSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament — the team trailed by at least 14 points in each game, which it ultimately couldn’t overcome.

Overall, Turgeon’s squads have gone 0-5 in postseason games in which they’ve faced a deficit of at least 14 points, including the 2016 Sweet Sixteen loss to Kansas.

“I definitely think we’re more equipped and more prepared for anything being thrown at us just because of our experience and our leadership out there on the court,” Wiggins said.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself at this point, ‘Well, they shouldn’t have been down that much in the first place.’ And sure, that is somewhat valid, but this Maryland team has found ways to win in a multitude of fashions this season.

The Terps are 15-0 in contests where they’ve scored over 70 points, which includes eight blowouts of at least 15 points. They’ve gone 6-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer, with only one of those losses (Wisconsin) in 2020. Four of those wins came in games where they were down or tied with their opponent with under 3:30 remaining.

And even when the offense isn’t clicking, Maryland has gotten the job done for the most part, winning 73.3 percent (11 of 15) of its games in which it’s shot under 45 percent from the field. Only two of those losses have come in 2020, with the team currently on a six-game winning streak.

“College basketball’s so crazy, you’re going to go through all kinds of different things — leads, being ahead, being down, tough road games, tough home games,” Turgeon said. “I guess we just kind of believe in each other. And to this point, we have faith that we’re going to get back in it if we’re down or if it’s close, we’re going to figure out a way to win it.

“And we haven’t won all the close games, but we’ve won a majority of them. So I guess it’s just kind of our makeup. And then we’re pretty good defensively, and that really helps you when you’re good defensively. And then we’ve been really good at the foul line, so those things help you in a lot of areas. But I think just the makeup [of this group] and the guys been resilient and believing in each other.”

Wiggins remarked this week that the team has grown more over the past month than any point this season, especially in terms of mentality and toughness. But there’s no stopping to take a moment of satisfaction because players and coaches alike know that Maryland hasn’t hit its peak just yet.

“Every time we leave practice and we bring it into a huddle, we tell each other that we didn’t accomplish nothing yet,” Smith said. “There’s no need to get complacent and just no need to get too high on ourselves or too low. We know that these next couple of weeks [are] going to be [the] most crucial weeks for us going into Big Ten play and going into the NCAA Tournament. It’s just locking down to be more focused than what we normally are.”