On March 8, 2020, the Terrapins (10-8, 4-7 B1G) wore Big Ten Championship t-shirts on their chests, rejoicing together as confetti covered the XFINITY Center floor. As the nets were slowly being clipped, no one within the program knew that would be their last regular-season game for 262 days.
Coming off an 83-70 win over then-No. 25 Michigan to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular season title, the Terps’ season abruptly came to an end four days later. On March 12, the NCAA announced that the NCAA Tournament would be cancelled out of an abundance of caution due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last season, just over a week out from Selection Sunday, the Terps were slated to be a Top 3 seed in March Madness, according to several pundits. Maryland was equipped to potentially make a deep tournament run with Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith leading the charge— in addition to a plethora of talented complementary players.
Now, with just over a month left in the regular season, the Terps are playing with a heightened appreciation each time they take the floor. Maryland has displayed tremendous resilience and toughness all season— headlined by four wins over top 25 opponents — three of which came on the road. The Terps have battled a grueling start to the conference schedule with nine of their first 11 games against ranked opponents.
“I’m really proud of this team,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “We could’ve tanked it a couple of times already and we didn’t. We just kept fighting, kept trying to get better.”
In addition to the on-court challenges of a daunting schedule in the nation’s deepest conference, the Terps have also had to navigate the difficulties that come with playing a season in the middle of a global pandemic.
Like every team in college basketball, Maryland has to go through a daily testing regiment and adhere to strict guidelines both at home and on the road. The restrictions have also prevented the Terps from having fans at the XFINITY Center. It’s typically one of the best home atmospheres in the Big Ten — defined by raucous crowds and the scintillating flag drop each second half.
However, with no fans in the arena and no family in the stands, the feeling of excitement when it’s announced that both teams are cleared before the game can’t be replicated.
“When you get that go-ahead both teams are clear it’s extra excitement and extra gratitude,” senior guard Reese Mona said. “Just to be able to go out and play the game we love and compete again.”
While the pandemic has brought upon added challenges for the Terps off the court, the team has been dealing with personnel changes on it. For the first time in several seasons, Maryland is lacking a true post presence.
That has proved extra challenging this season, considering the league is defined by dominant post presences like Iowa’s Luka Garza and Illinois’s Kofi Cockburn. Yet these personnel differences have allowed the Terps to grow tremendously as a collective unit, deciphering several lineups throughout this season.
“I think our guys are really appreciating the opportunities that they have in getting better,” Turgeon said. “We said a month ago, ‘hey we got some young guys, we got a lot of guys coming back that we just want to make better.’”
The Terps’ continued growth and evolution on the court compounded by the added challenges brought upon by the pandemic has proven to be beneficial. It has strengthened the camaraderie and bonding in the locker room, while also giving Maryand a heightened sense of confidence and thankfulness to play the game they love.
“We’re thankful, we really are, every time we get a chance to play,” Turgeon said.
Ultimately, like every team in college basketball, the Terps want an opportunity to finish the regular season and play in the postseason amidst the adversity. However, with that adversity comes an added reminder not to take anything for granted, and another opportunity to savor the moment of taking the floor with their teammates.
“It’s really just enjoying every game that we get, because we don’t really know how many more we have,” Mona said.