- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2019

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland basketball is coping with its first losing streak of the season, but Monday, the word on everyone’s lips around the program was “smile.”

No, nobody was celebrating the Terrapins’ most lopsided defeat of the season last week at No. 6 Michigan State, nor the more worrisome follow-up loss to Illinois on a neutral court at Madison Square Garden.

The grins weren’t because the Terrapins dropped from No. 13 to No. 21 in the new Associated Press poll, either.

Maryland wrapped up its week Sunday night with a Special Olympics event at the Xfinity Center, and to hear some Terrapins tell it, it was the best way for the tough week to end. Coach Mark Turgeon and some of his standout freshman players credited the event with boosting the team’s spirits ahead of Tuesday’s home game against Northwestern.

“Getting off the bus (after losing to Illinois) was tough,” guard Eric Ayala said. “But yesterday we had Special Olympics and those guys really kind of brightened our day up. It was all smiles and it brought everybody up. You couldn’t even tell that we had a game a few days ago.”

It was the fourth year the men’s program hosted Special Olympics athletes. Maryland welcomed 40 participants to campus for an evening of basketball-themed drills and games.

“We were able to get our minds off maybe the loss or basketball even for a little bit, and just think about how thankful we have to be and how blessed we are,” guard Aaron Wiggins said. “Being able to work with those kids and everything was really fun.”

Wiggins said his favorite part of the evening was “just seeing everybody smile.”

“At one point one kid told me that he lost his father and that this was one of his best moments of the year, and one of his favorite times of his life and stuff,” Wiggins said. “That put a really big smile on my face, knowing that I was able to contribute to making this kid happy and brighten his day a little.”

Turgeon, too, appreciated the opportunity to give back and the respite it seems to have provided. While praising his players’ resiliency, he said he was worried about taking the Illinois loss too hard.

“So I went to church, Special Olympics, had a good day, smiled a lot and spent time with the family,” the coach said. “And now we’ll get back to work today and get ready for Northwestern.”

Turgeon said he intended to address the Terrapins’ transition defense at practice, a point of concern in the loss to Illinois.

“I just think that throughout the game that we became less together defensively,” added Wiggins, Maryland’s sixth man who is second on the team with 19 steals. “We stopped talking. Communication was key and we lost that during the second half.”

To snap their losing streak and beat the Wildcats, the Terrapins will have to contain Northwestern’s experienced frontcourt. Seniors Vic Law and Dererk Pardon are the team’s two leading scorers and rebounders. The game tips off at 7 p.m.

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