Maryland men’s basketball exhumes resilience as it nears the end of its regular season and it’s ‘learning journey’

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Three games remain for one of the most eventful Maryland men’s basketball regular seasons of recent memory, one that saw the team dramatically fall from grace. 

Maryland came into the season as the 24th ranked team in the country, but it rarely, if ever, played like a ranked team. In early season tune-up games against what should have been weaker teams, Maryland struggled, and at some points fell to lesser opponents — namely George Mason and Louisville.

Following more lackluster performances, and coming off back-to-back losses to Louisville and Virginia Tech, Maryland’s head coach for 11 years, Mark Turgeon resigned as head coach and Danny Manning took the interim role.

“It’s been a learning journey. It’s been a lot of fun,” Manning said about his role this season. “It’s given me a chance to step out of my comfort zone and be in situations that I’ve not been in before. That’s how you grow, so I’m really thankful for that.”

It was clear a month in that it was unlikely that the Terps would soar to new heights for the 2021-22 season. Still, the decline that Maryland saw was substantial. Currently, they are the third-worst team in their conference.

Even if Maryland wins the last three games of the season, the Terps would finish with their worst conference record since moving to the Big Ten. Yet, the Terps find themselves fighting with the same willpower and grit they began the season with, maintaining hope that this campaign ends on a winning note. 

Just ask Fatts Russell, who worked to will his team into nearly toppling Indiana at home. 

“I’m just trying to go out winning,” Russell said. “I’m just trying to do anything as possible to get my team wins.”

With the will to win that many of his teammates have exemplified, even at this futile juncture of the season, it’s likely they share the same sentiment. 

Their next game is a home match against Ohio State, a team bound for a strong postseason run and a team that recently handled the Terps with ease, 82-67. That game, an impressive performance from Donta Scott, was flattened by a lackluster outing from the bench that scored a combined six points (all six from forward Julian Reese).

“Obviously, they’re a really talented basketball team,” Manning said of Ohio State. “They got comfortable and got into a rhythm at home.”

For Maryland to pull off the upset this time around, better defense is necessary to go along with more cohesive offensive play.

“We’ve got to find different ways to disrupt that rhythm in the halfcourt and then also in the full court,” Manning said. “We’ve got to do a really good job of getting back and finding their key players, especially [Justin] Ahrens, when he’s running in transition.”

As Maryland fights to go out winning, fans and Maryland hopefuls will at least have something to cherish on Sunday: A chance to look back at one of the program’s brightest eras, honoring the 2001-02 National Championship team — a group that enjoyed resounding success. Members of the championship winning squad including former head coach Gary Williams will be in attendance for the 20th anniversary of the Terps’ lone national title victory in program history.  

To many, the two decades since Maryland’s last title run have flown by. And Manning shares a similar belief when it comes to the length of a typical college career. He recognizes players like Eric Ayala and Russell don’t have much time left.

“Whether you’re in college five years, four years, your time goes fast,” Manning said. “[The older players] have a different appreciation level for what they’ve gone through, the journey that they’ve been on, and how they developed and grown from it.”