Maryland hoping to bring its home vibes on the road to Minnesota


In a seven-day stretch, the Maryland men’s basketball team transformed its worrisome start to Big Ten play into a respectable conference record that has the Terrapins firmly on track for an NCAA tournament bid. Coach Kevin Willard’s team made that leap with three straight home wins, handling struggling Wisconsin and Nebraska with ease before taking down surging Indiana.

Maryland built leads and maintained them. The Terps showcased their stingy defense and effective press against the No. 21 Hoosiers. They took care of the ball and looked like a group that is improving as the season goes on. But they did it all at Xfinity Center, where the Terps have mostly avoided letdowns. Now Maryland returns to the road, and it’s still in search of its first Big Ten victory away from College Park.

Willard’s team has its best chance yet to find one. The Terps (15-7, 6-5) visit Minnesota on Saturday night, and the Gophers (7-14, 1-10) are in last place in the conference. A victory would give Maryland a four-game winning streak ahead of Tuesday’s test at Michigan State (14-8, 6-5).

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During their just-completed homestand, the Terps proved they have the potential to keep climbing the Big Ten standings, but in road games — at Wisconsin, Michigan, Rutgers, Iowa and Purdue — they haven’t had the same success. And if that trouble persists, even against lesser opponents, it will hold back the Terps.

“We’ve got to figure out how to win on the road,” Willard said. “We’ve got to do it.”

Willard leans on a familiar refrain — “It’s really hard to win on the road,” he said — but his team’s 0-5 conference record away from Xfinity Center is particularly stark compared with its 6-0 home mark. On the road in conference play, Maryland is shooting 37.6 percent from the field (compared with 44.3 percent at home) and 28.7 percent from three-point range (32.7 percent at home). The Terps are averaging 13.6 turnovers in away games while committing just 8.7 at home.

Those disparities are amplified by Maryland’s abysmal New Year’s Day performance at Michigan, an 81-46 loss in which Willard said he “kind of waved the [white] flag early” and gave minutes to bench players without a win in sight during the second half. (The Terps beat Michigan 18 days later when the Wolverines traveled to College Park.) But even in other road outings, the Terps haven’t reproduced some of the positive moments they have had at home.

Maryland has gotten off to dreadful starts on the road. The Terps have made just 18 of 72 (25.0 percent) field goal attempts in the first 10 minutes of conference road games — compared with 54.8 percent (46 for 84) during the same stretch at home.

That early trouble has pushed Maryland into first-half deficits of 12 points at Wisconsin, 31 at Michigan, 11 at Rutgers, 16 at Iowa and 16 at Purdue. Willard recently said his players, many of whom are new to the Big Ten, have “really struggled with nerves at the start of games” on the road.

A key difference at home, players said, is the ease of generating energy from the opening tip. On the road, that early intensity has been missing.

“At home, it’s easy to do because the fans are here, and they’re able to get us through it at the beginning,” said Patrick Emilien, a reserve forward. “Just kind of creating that energy ourselves — I’ve been trying to do that starting on the bench, being an energy plug for the starting five, because it’s not easy to just come out and start competing right out [of] the jump.”

The Terps have clawed back into some of their road games, with their most recent trip — a 58-55 loss at now-No. 1 Purdue — the most encouraging because of how well they played against a top-tier team.

“We’ve played good spurts,” Willard said. “We have to be able to put 40 minutes together on the road.”

The Terps have maintained their spot in NCAA tournament projections because of how they have excelled at home. They’re 12-1 at Xfinity Center, with their only loss coming to now-No. 9 UCLA. Maryland played just one nonconference road game; it routed Louisville, one of the worst Power Five programs in the country, in late November.

But this weekend, the Terps have the right ingredients for a breakthrough: a winning streak, a confidence-boosting victory over a ranked team and a floundering opponent. Maryland just needs to grab pieces of its recent outings at home and carry them onto the road.

“We’ve got to bring our defensive intensity,” Willard said. “It’s got to travel with us. I don’t think it has. That’s the thing we’ve got to build on.”

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