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Behind a new mindset, Maryland men’s basketball is finding its stride

The Terps have turned positive body language, energy and confidence into a string of conference wins.

Nebraska v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

As he sat down to watch film from Maryland men’s basketball’s loss to No. 4 Ohio State last week, one thing in particular stood out to Mark Turgeon: his team’s body language. The head coach was upset to see how players hung their heads and got down on themselves in the contest, particularly as they began to fall behind in the second half.

With seven games left for the Terps to push for an NCAA Tournament bid following that loss, he knew he needed to change his team’s attitude. So, leading up to the Terps’ recent span of three games in four days, Turgeon placed an emphasis on positive body language, confidence and energy.

“Body language is contagious,” senior guard Darryl Morsell said. “[If] I put my head down if somebody shoots a shot, that’s me showing that I don’t have no confidence in them and that’s just not good for the team...having a positive mindset and speaking positivity and stuff can go a long way.”

The Terps entered Sunday’s matchup against Minnesota with four victories through three months of conference play. But in just four days, behind a revitalized mindset, they picked up three more, defeating the Golden Gophers and then taking down Nebraska in back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Guys have been fighting all year, they’ve never given up,” Turgeon said after the third victory on Wednesday. “We’ve been together, we stick together, we believe in each other, and you can see it. We’re getting better as a team and everybody’s body language and positive attitudes [are] getting better.”

Needless to say, it’s been a frustrating/challenging season for the Terps. They faced 10 ranked opponents in their first 13 games of conference play, going up against some of the best talent in the country night in and night out.

Though the team picked up upsets on the road against the likes of ranked Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota teams, wins were few and far between, and each was followed by a loss; Maryland entered this recent stretch with a 4-9 record in Big Ten play.

Turgeon and players continued to roll out the cliches of staying positive whenever they talked to the media, but the emotional wear and tear of the season was evident and they didn’t seem to be having any fun on the court.

“No matter how hard [the schedule] is, if you’re losing, you lose confidence and you’re not quite sure of yourself,” Turgeon said earlier this week.

But these last three games seemed to have a different feel. Yes, Minnesota and Nebraska are easier opponents than many teams the Terps have faced this season, but they could have easily folded. Instead, they bought in on Turgeon’s message.

The team’s belief in itself was palpable from the first tip on Sunday night, allowing Maryland to jump out to an early 14-point lead against the Golden Gophers. The Terps finished with a 72-59 victory for their first sweep this season, which translated seamlessly into the doubleheader with the Cornhuskers.

Instead of falling into painfully long scoring lulls as they frequently have throughout the season despite open looks, the Terps quickly shook off missed shots to get back in rhythm over this recent stretch, their confidence unwavering. In each of the three matchups, Maryland didn’t go more than five minutes without a field goal — something that couldn’t be said for most of its showings up until that point.

The Terps averaged 71.7 points across the three games, a stark difference from its mark of 62.9 points per contest in prior Big Ten play. They also made 47.9% of their field goal attempts after averaging a shooting mark of 41.5% through their 13 previous conference games.

“When our offense is clicking and guys are playing comfortable, confident and making shots, our team is really dangerous,” junior guard Aaron Wiggins said after the second win over Nebraska. “...When we get our offense going and our defense is there, we can be a really good team.”

Now holding a 13-10 overall record with a 7-9 mark in the Big Ten, Maryland has climbed up the NCAA Tournament bubble in dramatic fashion, projected as one of the last four byes by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi for the first time this season Thursday.

The team has four contests remaining before postseason play (at Rutgers, vs Michigan State, at Northwestern and vs Penn State), in which it’ll look to continue its late surge and keep the positive vibes going.

“I think [the win streak] gives us a lot of confidence,” junior guard Aaron Wiggins said after Wednesday’s game. “We felt like we really needed [these wins] and we were pressed to get them. So, guys were locked in and we were ready to go and we took care of business in the last couple games. So you got to continue to move forward and build on it.”