There was a sick feeling within the Maryland men’s basketball team when the buzzer sounded on its 69-67 loss to LSU in the second round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The Terps were forced to return to College Park after knocking on the door to an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen.
Maryland never let that moment go and has used it as motivation to prepare for the upcoming season.
“We had a terrific year, but because of the way the season ended at the buzzer to go to the Sweet 16 and [to] have a chance to come back home and play in D.C.,” Maryland Head Coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s made our guys really hungry. And I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team work as hard as this team did from April until they started practice and it shows.”
The Terps will enter the 2019-20 campaign with high expectations, as numerous experts have predicted Maryland to be a top 10 team in the country. Maryland knows it can’t control what experts think, so the team is only worrying about what it can do at the present moment.
“We don’t really talk too much about that,” Maryland junior guard Darryl Morsell said. “We have a group message, and our goal is to get better every season. We’re not focused on preseason rankings, we’re just focused on our team. Every day we’re just trying to come in here and get better, and our message is to conquer the day. You can’t control what happens tomorrow, yesterday was yesterday and we’re just focused on the moment and the task at hand.”
The Terps’ mixture of returners like Morsell, forward Jalen Smith, guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins alongside freshmen Mahki and Makhel Mitchell gives Turgeon the ability to work with various lineups that can maintain production throughout games.
“I would probably say it’s my deepest team,” Turgeon said. “I think there’ll be times in games this year where we sub and we get better. And that’s not always hasn’t been the case. So it’ll be times where we sub and we don’t get better but hopefully we can maintain where we are. There’s been the last couple years we sub, we’re just holding on, you know just oh my gosh, we’re up six try to keep it at six but then we sub back in it’s tied so I don’t think that’ll be the case this year.”
Senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who decided to Maryland despite declaring for the NBA Draft, will be leading this group with one goal in mind and that is to win. Cowan got a taste of it in high school when he guided St. John’s to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title in 2016. He’s determined to capture that same feeling with Terps.
“That was a big time for me, it was something I really put my mind to. Just winning something, that’s all that I’m really looking at here this year, is winning something,” Cowan said. “I have to win something. That’s just how I feel. It’s hard to even sleep for a few days if I’m not winning, if I’m not helping my team win. I was coming back just to do that.”
Cowan, who was named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list, is posed for a big season, as he has developed into a better leader and shooter than he was a year ago.
“He’s got so much experience that’s been good,” Cowan said. “He’s shooting the ball better than he’s ever shot it here. Last year at times he would throw it instead of shooting it. Now he’s really shooting the ball at a high level, and he’s very confident. He put on about 10 pounds of muscle. I wasn’t as high on it at first when he was talking about doing it, but it’s made him really athletic even more athletic.”
With Bruno Fernando gone, Turgeon isn’t sure anyone can match his energy, but he sees multiple players making a strong impact on the defensive end.
“[Jalen Smith] is a pretty tremendous shot blocker in his own right. Ricky Lindo’s [Jr.] game has really improved,” Turgeon said. “He can protect the rim. The twins [Makhi and Makhel Mitchell]. They do a great job of protecting the rim and then hopefully eventually down the road, we’re going to get Chol [Marial] back.”