With four weeks remaining in the regular season, Maryland is on a roll.
The Terrapins are ranked No. 9, on top of the Big Ten standings and coming off an impressive road win at then-No. 20 Illinois in a matchup of first-place teams Thursday. Now Maryland is back home, where it has yet to lose this season, ready to meet 13th-place Nebraska on Tuesday night in College Park, Md.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon knows a “trap game” when he sees one.
The Cornhuskers (7-16, 2-10) are coming off the worst loss of first-year coach Fred Hoiberg’s tenure, a 96-72 defeat at then-No. 17 Iowa on Saturday — a setback Hoiberg termed “humiliating.” Count on Nebraska being ready to play in a spotlight game against a ranked foe, desperately trying to snap an eight-game losing streak.
Maryland (19-4, 9-3), meanwhile, is playing some of its best basketball of the season, although depth is an issue coming down the stretch. The Terrapins are only going seven players deep regularly, and that can make them vulnerable.
“It’s real simple,” Turgeon said of his surging team.
“We’re making a few more shots. We’re turning the ball over less and we can really guard when we lock in. And we have faith that we’re going to win. We were probably over-ranked early in the year. We had a lot on our plate, and young people handle that in different ways.”
The Terrapins seem to have a handle on things now. Behind All-America candidate Anthony Cowan, Maryland has averaged just eight turnovers in the past five games. If the Terrapins, last in the Big Ten with a 41.5 field-goal percentage, ever find the shooting range, watch out. This is one of Turgeon’s best defensive teams — quick, long-armed and intuitive on that end of the floor with 6-foot-10 double-double machine Jalen Smith protecting the rim.
The Cornhuskers are allowing the most points in the Big Ten (76.3 per game) and are ahead of only Maryland with a shooting percentage of 41.8. They haven’t won a Big Ten game since a Jan. 7 upset of Iowa.
“My message to our guys, you know I’ve been on teams like this. I’ve played on teams where we’ve gone on slides; the only way out of it is to continue to work,” said Hoiberg. “The only way out of it is to stay together and keep battling every day.”
The Cornhuskers are 0-4 against ranked teams, all in the Big Ten. Maryland is 13-0 at home in Xfinity Center this season and has a 14-game home winning streak, dating to last season.
Sophomore guard Cam Mack leads the Cornhuskers at 13.0 points per game, but Haanif Cheatham (11.9 ppg) and Dachon Burke Jr. (11.4) also chip in double figures. Thorir “Thor” Thorbjarnarson is shooting nearly 45 percent from 3-point range and averaging 8.7 points.
Cowan (16.4 points, 4.4 assists per game) and Smith (15.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, six straight double-doubles) pace the Terrapins, while guards Aaron Wiggins (10.6 ppg) and Darryl Morsell (8.7 ppg) are also making big contributions, particularly during the current winning streak.
After Nebraska, Maryland will travel to East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday to face a Michigan State team that fell out of the rankings this week. Nebraska will host Wisconsin on Saturday.
–Field Level Media