- - Sunday, February 12, 2017

With Selection Sunday just four weeks away, the Maryland Terrapins — sitting in second place in the Big Ten standings and hovering just outside the top 20 in the polls — seem to be well on their way to a third straight NCAA Tournament this March.

But whether the team can position itself for a top seed in March could turn on how coach Mark Turgeon and his squad look in a couple of high-stakes road games over the next seven days: A Wednesday night date at scrappy Northwestern, followed by a Sunday showdown with Wisconsin, currently ranked in the AP’s Top 10.

The Terrapins head into those contests after posting a statement win in front of their home crowd on Saturday — an 86-77 victory over Ohio State.

Taking the court after a pregame ceremony honoring legendary coach Lefty Driesell, the Terps ended their two-game losing streak — their first of the season — behind 19 points from Anthony Cowan and 18 from fellow freshman Kevin Huerter. Reserves also played a key role for Maryland, outscoring Ohio State’s bench 33-0.

“I knew they were dialed in and ready to play well — and we did,” Turgeon said after Maryland led from start to finish.

After getting out to the best starting record in school history by beginning the season 20-2, the Terps lost two straight to conference foes Purdue and Penn State to fall from first to third in the Big Ten standings.

“We just need to get back to what got us here. Practicing hard, watching a lot of film, all that work off the court. We just need to get back to what got us to this point,” forward Justin Jackson said after last week’s loss to Penn State.

The difference against the Buckeyes?

“Energy and preparation,” Turgeon said. “We acted and looked like a team throughout the whole game.”

The added energy helped Maryland avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2012.

“It was definitely a big game. We had to come back and re-focus,” Cowan said. “Hopefully this gets us back to our winning ways.”

The conference schedule has been a challenge for the young Terrapins, who have proven they have a long way to go if they hope to compete for a national title. Especially after Tuesday’s lackluster performance on the road against Penn State.

“We just had a bad night. It’s a long season, [we’ve played] 24 of them already. We’ve been traveling a lot. I’m not going to make excuses, we just didn’t play well,” Turgeon said.

Turgeon said he wants the Terrapins playing their best basketball heading into March.

“You never want to lose, you never want to not play well. I thought we played pretty well in the Purdue game, just didn’t make the plays at the end. The other night we just weren’t playing our best,” Turgeon said.

The Terps were outscored 35-29 in the first half against Penn State, and starting slow has been a recurring theme this season.

“Things happen, I guess we just had a slow start. We’ve had a couple slow starts this season. We need to learn how to snap out of it, good teams don’t start slow. We need to learn to start fast and continue that pace,” Jackson said.

ESPN’s current projections have the Terps as a five seed in the NCAA tournament, which would give them a fighting chance of reaching the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season.

The Terps are ranked 21st in the AP poll and 22nd in the USA Today coaches’ poll, and their strength of record, which ranks 20th, suggests those rankings are accurate. They are also ranked 24th in RPI, which takes strength of schedule into account.

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