He hasn’t tried to sugarcoat the 85-61 plastering Florida State dealt the Terrapins men’s basketball team Jan. 12, but coach Mark Turgeon often gushes about how much the Terps have improved since that woeful performance in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Terps earned revenge with an 83-71 victory over the Seminoles in College Park on Feb. 8 and came within one bounce of knocking off then-No. 8 Duke and then-No. 4 Syracuse in the following weeks. Sunday afternoon, the Terps finally polished off a marquee win with a 75-69 overtime triumph over then-No. 5 Virginia.
Though they’ve posted a modest 7-7 record since that defeat at Florida State, the No. 8-seed Terps believe they’re peaking as they enter their third contest this season against the No. 9-seed Seminoles in this afternoon’s ACC tournament second-round matchup in Greensboro, N.C.
“Last time we embarrassed ourselves was Florida State,” Turgeon said after the Terps’ victory over the Cavaliers on Sunday. “We were in every game, home or away. At home, we were pretty good at times. So we felt like we could play with anybody in our league. After today, we feel like we could play with anybody in our league and beat them.”
The Terps likely need to capture an ACC title by winning four games in four days to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive season. Still, the Terps point to their recent play as a reason the task might not be too daunting.
Guard Seth Allen has found his form after missing the season’s opening 12 games with a fracture in his left foot, and he’s directed the offense adequately while averaging 13.2 points per game. Allen’s presence has also helped third team All-ACC selection Dez Wells, who has moved into a more comfortable role as a scorer on the wing and leads the team with 14.8 points per game.
The two guards combined for 38 points in the victory over the Cavaliers, which gave the Terps their lone win against a top-25 team this season.
“It gives us confidence,” Allen said. “We’re going into the ACC tournament with some momentum, with some swagger.”
The Terps said they’ve gained confidence over the past month, as they nearly knocked off the Orange and the Blue Devils, but Sunday provided an extra boost. After losing two heartbreakers to national powerhouses and falling in double overtime at Clemson, the overtime win that sent fans pouring onto the Comcast Center floor proved the team could remain composed in late-game situations.
Even after the Cavaliers tied the game with less than a second left in regulation when forward Anthony Gill finished a lob pass with a short floater, the Terps responded to control the game in overtime.
“We definitely knew we could play with everybody in the league,” forward Jake Layman said. “But I think this shows other teams that we’re not just a team that can get there and not get a win, but that we are right there and can get a win.”
Two months ago, the Terps were in the opposite situation, just hoping to prove they could compete after consecutive 20-point losses at Pittsburgh and Florida State. Turgeon has referenced the Florida State game as a low point of the season, as the Seminoles shot 16-of-24 on 3-pointers in a lopsided win.
The Terps, though, had a convincing victory of their own over Florida State in College Park while guard Ian Miller, the Seminoles second-leading scorer, sat out with an ankle injury.
With Miller back in the lineup and the Terps (17-14, 9-9 ACC) hitting their stride behind Allen and Wells, Turgeon isn’t expecting another blowout when his team meets Florida State (18-12, 9-9) for a third time.
“Thursday’s game should be different than the first two,” Turgeon said in a conference call Monday. “Both teams are further along. I think we understand each other. It should be a heck of a game.”
If the Terps do end up in a close game at Greensboro Coliseum, Turgeon doesn’t expect his team to panic. The third-year coach has witnessed the Terps’ progress since their discouraging defeat at Florida State, and the victory over Virginia finally provided tangible evidence of their development.
Today, the Terps have another chance — with their season on the line — to test how far they’ve come against a team that handed them a humbling defeat more than two months ago.
“Going into the tournament, we feel like we can really, really make a lot of noise,” Wells said, “and get a chance to go to the NCAA tournament.”