Terps still have much to prove

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

SCH­MUCK, are more likely to wear down over the course of a dif­fi­cult con­fer­ence sched­ule with all the aca­demic and lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges that come with that.

This is one of Tur­geon’s youngest teams, so there’s no way to prove at this point that the same thing won’t oc­cur this sea­son. But the per­for­mance of the Terps over the past few weeks is rais­ing hope that some­thing spe­cial might be hap­pen­ing in Col­lege Park.

When the Terps de­feated No. 24 Ne­braska on Jan. 2, the win snapped an 11-game los­ing streak against ranked teams that stretched over the past three sea­sons. When they beat Rut­gers and a pretty good Min­nesota team on the road on Jan. 5 and Jan. 8, it was the first time they had won back-to-back con­fer­ence road games since they won five in a row dur­ing that 20-2 start two years ago.

It ob­vi­ously be­gins and ends with ju­nior An­thony Cowan Jr. and pos­si­bly-NBA-bound big man Bruno Fer­nando, who com­bined for 49 points Fri­day night to pull the Terps back into a game against No. 22 In­di­ana. It had ap­peared to be all but lost when the Terps scored just six points in the first nine min­utes of play and fell be­hind by 14 against a strong de­fen­sive team.

There were times ear­lier this sea­son when Cowan seemed to have re­gressed, but he has come on strong, par­tic­u­larly Fri­day night and in the sim­i­lar road vic­tory over Min­nesota. Fer­nando is ad­just­ing to be­ing dou­ble-teamed on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and has im­proved tremen­dously year over year. He clearly is one of the top big men in col­lege bas­ket­ball and the Terps have an­other one in the mak­ing in 6-foot-10 fresh­man Jalen Smith.

“We have a lot of con­fi­dence in An­thony and we know we need him to do great things, and also have a ton of con­fi­dence in Bruno,’’ Tur­geon said af­ter Fri­day night’s game. “I loved the poise we played with. An­thony or Bruno had the ball in their hands al­most ev­ery pos­ses­sion late in the game, and that’s just guys grow­ing up and the younger guys un­der­stand­ing how we need to play and that takes a while to get where we’re go­ing.

“We’re get­ting bet­ter. We’ve re­ally im­proved since Christ­mas. We wouldn’t have won that game be­fore Christ­mas. We wouldn’t have fig­ured it out, but we’ve got­ten a lot bet­ter.”

Tur­geon isn’t one to make bold procla­ma­tions, but he said he saw some­thing de­vel­op­ing dur­ing the team’s sum­mer tour of Italy that made him believe there might be great­ness in this group.

“I’d like to be up a lit­tle bit more of­ten at half­time mov­ing for­ward and hope­fully we can be­come a bet­ter first-half team,’’ he said. “But ever since I had this team in Italy this sum­mer, there’s some­thing about them I can’t ex­plain. I think it’s about how much they care about each other … how much they love each other and how much they play for each other.”

Fer­nando said Fri­day it’s all about un­selfish­ness and buy­ing into the team con­cept, which can’t be easy for the play­ers like him­self who hear their names men­tioned as pos­si­ble first-round NBA draft picks.

“I think it’s the com­mit­ment ev­ery­body has,’’ he said. “Ev­ery­body is sac­ri­fic­ing their in­di­vid­ual goals for the good of the team, and that’s re­ally show­ing by the way we’re play­ing. I’m just try­ing to make sure ev­ery­body helps each other be suc­cess­ful on the court. We’re do­ing well with that. We’re get­ting the wins we’re get­ting and we’re mov­ing in the di­rec­tion we want to.”

Clearly no one is wor­ried about what hap­pened last year or the year be­fore, but Tur­geon knows that in the Big Ten, there is al­ways a rough road ahead. The Terps host Wis­con­sin on Mon­day night at Xfin­ity Cen­ter and then hit the road to play No. 16 Ohio State on Fri­day and No. 6 Michi­gan State three days later.

“We’ve got a huge up­side,’’ Tur­geon said. “We talk about it in the locker room all the time. We’re in the mid­dle of a se­ri­ous grind right now. Not that there’s ever an easy game in our league, but we’re go­ing ev­ery three days. So, we’re not able to prac­tice as much, but we’re get­ting bet­ter in games. So that’s good for us, but I’d like to think how far we’ve come since Dec. 27, where can we be on Feb. 1, where can we be on Feb. 15.

“We’ll see.”

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