EAST LANSING, Mich. — Head coach Mark Turgeon walked into the visiting team’s locker room at Breslin Student Events Center with his arms raised high above his head and a wide smile on his face after No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball’s 67-60 win over Michigan State.
He was met by cheers from players as he made his way to the front of the room and pumped his fist numerous times. The Terps then began to bark, embracing the “road dawgs” mentality they’ve adopted as of late, complete with Saturday night’s win.
He then turned to the whiteboard at the front of the room and circled two phrases he had written before the game — positive energy and grit. The Terps responded with cheers as they continued to celebrate their eight-game win streak, complete with the program’s first win in East Lansing since 2014.
“That’s four in a row for us on the road when everybody was wondering if we were ever gonna win one on the road,” Turgeon said after the game. “Whenever you can beat Michigan State in this building — because they’re always the class of the league, they have been for a long time — so whenever you can get that win, it means a lot.”
Earlier this season, Maryland lost four consecutive road games to the likes of Seton Hall, Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin. Since then, Turgeon’s team has dialed in on its mental toughness and handed defeats to Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan State.
The Terps have played behind at one point or another in each of those contests. They trailed by at least 14 points against the Wildcats and Fighting Illini before pulling out 11-point victories in each. They led most of the way against the Hoosiers and Spartans, but gave up their advantage late to go down at least seven. But they still found a way to go on a run and come back in the final three minutes in both.
Trailing Michigan State 60-53 with 3:24 left to play Saturday, Maryland went on a 14-0 run to silence the Breslin Student Events Center crowd.
Sophomore forward Jalen Smith kicked it off by draining a three-pointer from the left wing. Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. followed with three consecutive triples, despite not having made a shot since 16:38 remained in the first half. And he then knocked down two free-throws late.
“[This team is] just at a point where we’re really, really locked in on making sure that we try to execute to the best of our ability, trying to get the win any way possible,” Smith said.
Turgeon said after the game that he never talked about losing the game with his team, but simply that it had to find a way to shut the Spartans out the rest of the way and make a couple shots.
“Give Maryland credit,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “Championship teams make championship plays down the stretch.”
He would know, having won the 2000 National Championship, nine Big Ten regular season titles, six Big Ten tournament championships and made it to eight Final Fours.
“They’re a lot tougher team,” Cassius Winston added. “Years before, we kind of just played harder and you could kind of see them fold a little bit. This year, they punched us in the mouth. They kept the energy going the entire time. So it’s definitely a much tougher team and a good basketball team.”
Turgeon decided to keep Maryland out of reach of the College GameDay festivities to keep his team locked in and focused. The Terps had their shootaround on Friday instead of their normal day-of schedule and then spent Saturday getting loose and relaxing before walking through the game plan at their hotel. The Spartans, on the other hand, sat in the stands watching the ESPN show unfold.
Smith explained that the team’s confidence is at an all-time high. Cowan said the Terps have increased their toughness by “realizing we haven’t done anything yet,” which they emphasis as a group every day.
And even after a huge victory in East Lansing, that still remains the mentality of this group with much bigger goals ahead — the senior guard mentioned earning a championship multiple times in his postgame remarks.
“We’ve won a couple big games, we’ve won a couple big road games, but at the end of the day, none of us have a ring on on our finger,” Cowan said. “So we’ve still got a lot more to do.”