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Maryland basketball growing comfortable in uncomfortable games

Against Northwestern, the Terps followed an increasingly common script.

Maryland's bench cheers on Melo Trimble as the point guard draws a foul near the end of the Terps' win over Northwestern on Tuesday.
Maryland's bench cheers on Melo Trimble as the point guard draws a foul near the end of the Terps' win over Northwestern on Tuesday.
Sung-Min Kim/Testudo Times

It didn't take Mark Turgeon long to figure it would be a long night.

"I think I knew the first couple possessions, and I yelled at my assistants," Turgeon said. "I'm like, 'We're in for a tough one.' So I knew it early."

Three days after 100-point routing of Ohio State that had Maryland on cruise control by halftime, the Terps needed overtime to put away Northwestern, 62-56, in College Park on Tuesday night.

"The other night, at halftime, you knew you had a chance, but every night's different," Turgeon said. "Every night's different."

This night was especially wonky. Maryland, measured by some as the tallest team in the country, was out-rebounded 16-4 on the offensive glass. The Terps coughed up 16 turnovers against a middling but dangerous conference opponent, let an 8-point second-half lead flip to a 4-point deficit, missed multiple go-ahead jumpers in the final minute of regulation and, against common logic for most college basketball teams, still won.

The offensive rebounding numbers were stark, but Maryland's had nights like this before. The most recent example was a comeback-by-necessity against Penn State at the end of December. But last year, there were scores of these odd games, enough of them that they're beginning to feel less odd.

It's a familiar formula: Maryland takes a long time to get churning, dances with defeat toward the end of the second half, then wins by a basket or two in front of a quiet but then raucous home crowd. It happened last year against Penn State, Rutgers, Nebraska and this same Northwestern program. It's happened this year against Georgetown, Rider, Penn State and now Northwestern again. Maryland has won every time.

"We found out last year that every game in the Big Ten's going to be tough," Maryland guard Melo Trimble said. "As far as the end of the game, it's something that we're used to from last year. It just comes down to trusting each other."

At this point, the Maryland narrow win at home against a so-so opponent is its own distinct genre of game. The good thing for the Terps is that they know, with stirring certainty, that they're going to win.

"This team, and last year's team, when it came down in the end, if it was a 1-point game or a 2-point game, we always felt like we were going to come up with the win," said forward Jake Layman.

Maryland's confidence in these games, which it would rather avoid in the first place, is grounded in skill.

"We trust our defense enough to get stops we need to," Layman said. "I think on offense we have so many weapons that whenever we need a bucket, we can always get one."

The Terrapins have followed this script time and time again. It's not an idyllic situation, but they've found a comfort level in a state of discomfort. Maryland's confidence in these situations might be luck by another name, but it's worked so far.

"We've got confidence that we're really good at home and that we should win," forward Robert Carter Jr. said. "We've got good coaches and good players to win at home, and we definitely feel like we have the advantage."