- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2020

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland’s cold-blooded, game-ending 14-0 run en route to a comeback win at Michigan State on Saturday pushed them a bit further into the national spotlight.

For one, the Terrapins moved up in the Associated Press poll again, checking in at No. 7 on Monday — identical to their preseason ranking.

But beyond the weekly numerical ranking, Maryland’s eight-game winning streak, and the manner in which it’s managed to win those games, has accumulated some new believers both human and algorithmic. For example, ESPN’s basketball power index (BPI) gives the Terrapins a 2.7% chance to win the national title, tied for eighth-best odds in the country.

ESPN analyst Jeff Borzello wrote glowingly of the Terrapins’ surge from behind to beat the Spartans, during which senior Anthony Cowan knocked down three clutch 3-pointers on three straight tries.

“It was a comeback that showed some mental toughness, perhaps the No. 1 thing that has been questioned about Maryland the past several years,” Borzello wrote.

Indeed, Maryland’s road under coach Mark Turgeon has been bumpy, with the occasional baffling loss to a Big Ten also-ran, a failure to reach any postseason tournament just two years ago and just one Sweet 16 berth in the coach’s nine seasons. Has mental toughness been all the talented Terrapins lacked in recent years under coach Mark Turgeon?

It’s hard to call it their only problem, but for how often Turgeon and Cowan preach staying balanced, they seem to believe it’s a solution.

“We dropped them off at the apartments after the (Michigan State) game the other night,” Turgeon said. “I was like, ‘Alright, eight games ago they were talking about how bad we were. Now everybody is telling you how good you are.’ I said, ‘Both of them are poison.’”

For a role model, Turgeon and other players point to Cowan’s leadership by example, as they’ve done all season.

“You talk about a guy that doesn’t get too high and doesn’t get too low. Sometimes you’re wondering if he has a heartbeat,” Turgeon said.

“We’re definitely mentally tough,” Cowan explained. “Throughout the season you definitely have some adversity, some highs and lows, but I think it’s important just to stay even-keeled. When you can do that, usually those teams are the ones that are most successful.”

Every player from Cowan on down buys into the message, sophomore Aaron Wiggins said.

“One thing Turge emphasizes is just staying under control, staying poised,” Wiggins said. “He mentioned that last game when Michigan State made that run in the second half: ‘Stay poised, don’t let the run rattle us.’ And Ant on the court just being a leader vocally and showing us how to handle it all.”

It hasn’t translated into perfect performances. Last week, one game after pulling off a road win over then-No. 20 Illinois, the Terrapins had to struggle to beat Nebraska — 13th place in the Big Ten — at home by two points.

They’ll have to guard against another possible letdown game Tuesday when they host Northwestern, which is dead last in the conference with a 1-13 Big Ten record. When they met last month at Northwestern, the Wildcats actually got out ahead of Maryland and held a 40-26 halftime lead, which could have spelled disaster. Jalen Smith scored 21 points in the second half alone to help Maryland turn it into a win.

With just six regular-season games to go, Maryland (21-4, 11-3 Big Ten) is in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament. It could be in position for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament by avoiding any bad losses; all four of the Terrapins’ losses this year came to teams ranked in the top 28 in the nation by KenPom.com’s ratings system as of Monday.

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