Coach Mark Turgeon is hoarse with a bad cold, scoring leader Dez Wells has been nursing a sore knee since midway through the ACC tournament, and Maryland has had to get over playing four games in seven days and not making the NCAA tournament.
Despite all that, the Terps (22-12) were getting motivated to play basketball again, beginning with a home game Tuesday night against Niagara (19-13) in the first round of the NIT. If they win, they would play the Ohio-Denver winner. The future schedule has not been finalized, but that second-round game would likely be at Comcast Center on Thursday.
Better to be playing, the second-seeded Terps reasoned, than to be on the outside looking in — as they were last season — at a time of year when the nation becomes basketball-obsessed.
"Even if we weren't playing basketball [games] now, we'd be playing pickup," junior point guard Pe'Shon Howard said. "We want to win the NIT."
Howard said he was catching up on sleep after guarding three top Atlantic Coast Conference guards — Wake Forest's C.J. Harris, Duke's Seth Curry and North Carolina's Reggie Bullock — over three days in Greensboro, N.C.
"I think the first four minutes [of Saturday's North Carolina loss], I was just so gassed," Howard said. "[Turgeon] walked over to me and said, 'Pe'shon, you can't be tired right now. You're what, 20, 21 years old?'"
Harris, Curry and Bullock were among 16 players voted to the All-ACC team by the 12 conference coaches and announced Monday. No Terp appeared on the team.
Winning three NIT games would send Maryland to New York's Madison Square Garden for the semifinals. That would permit forward James Padgett to play his final college game in his home city. "We figure that would be a great way to send him out, playing at the Garden in his senior year," Howard said.
It requires a certain maturity to get over the disappointment of losing by three points to North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals and missing out on the NCAA tournament.
"There was a lot of tears in the locker room," Turgeon said. "I think we had 24 hours to digest it. It was still in the back of our kids' [minds] that our name might pop up [Sunday on the NCAA tournament bracket]. We digested it and I think our guys are really excited."
Maryland and Virginia were considered NCAA tournament "bubble" teams for much of the regular season. "If we just would have won on the road a little more, I think we both would have gotten in," Turgeon said.
Maryland — which could play a road game later in the NIT — is 3-7 in away games. Virginia, an NIT top seed, is 3-8.
Six of Maryland's top seven scorers are either sophomores or freshmen. The team is looking for experience — home or away — where it can get it.
"Any postseason play for me is great," said Wells, a sophomore transfer. Wells said he banged his knee on the floor during the upset victory over No. 2 Duke on Friday. He started as usual in the next game against the Tar Heels, but the knee is sore.
Turgeon acknowledged that he might feel differently about playing in the NIT next season, his third as the coach. Maryland will expect to be better next season — more mature — and to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
"It all depends what happens between now and next season, too," Turgeon said, alluding to the roster.
Maryland will learn after the season whether sophomore center Alex Len will return next year or opt for the NBA draft.
Len improved his play during the ACC tournament, particularly against North Carolina. He had 20 points and seven rebounds against the Tar Heels and was aggressive enough to get to the foul line 12 times, making 10.
"He was really good in that game," Turgeon said.
Notes: Niagara is led by guard Antoine Mason, the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason. The second-leading scorer, Juan'ya Green, is also a guard. "To play a team like Maryland is a great challenge," longtime Purples Eagles coach Joe Mihalich said in a written statement.
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