Maryland men’s basketball guard Kevin Huerter has watched the NCAA tournament ever since Florida won the 2006 national title behind now-NBA players Al Horford and Joakim Noah. He’s been an annual Selection Sunday viewer since.
He enjoyed seeing other squads make the field each season, but that didn’t compare to the emotion associated with seeing Maryland earn a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Huerter, along with fellow freshmen Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson, were celebrating their first March Madness as players. They’re set to play their biggest test yet against Xavier on Thursday in Orlando, Florida.
Standing in the basement of coach Mark Turgeon’s home in Kensington, Huerter interlocked his hands over his head as CBS sportscaster Greg Gumbel announced the final teams to make the tournament. Upon seeing Maryland’s name pop onto the screen, the Clifton Park, N.Y., native threw his hands down and clenched his fists. He continued jumping alongside guards Andrew Terrell and Jared Nickens as 11th-seed Xavier appeared opposite the Terps.
Despite his initial reaction, Huerter said playing in the Big Dance didn’t sink in until he was on the drive back to campus. He didn’t want to wait until Thursday to face off with the Musketeers in Orlando, Florida. He yearned to play that night.
“We were really fired up,” Huerter said. “To be a part of it, it’s not really like anything else to be honest.”
After Maryland lost four starters from last year’s Sweet 16 run, the freshmen trio has played a significant role in the Terps’ third-straight NCAA tournament appearance. They’re the three-highest scorers aside from guard Melo Trimble, each averaging at least nine points per game. Jackson and Huerter are the squad’s leading rebounders, while Cowan has been the Terps’ starting point guard in every game.
Turgeon acknowledged the freshmen’s postseason inexperience Sunday, but didn’t view it as a limiting factor as the Terps look to win their 13th-straight first-round contest. Plus, they filled the stat sheet during the Big Ten tournament, which the sixth-year coach views as a preview for the Big Dance. Despite Maryland’s 72-64 quarterfinal loss to Northwestern on Friday night, Huerter and Cowan combined for 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
“We didn’t do our part,” Turgeon said. “We learned from it. We’re going to be a better team. We had an unbelievable practice [Sunday]. We’re looking forward to Xavier on Thursday.”
Upon arriving on campus, the freshmen helped Maryland start the season 20-2, its best start in program history. Many of those victories came away from Xfinity Center. Before their loss at Penn State, the Terps were 9-0 in road and neutral games.
Even after Maryland lost back-to-back games to Wisconsin and Minnesota in late February, Cowan insisted the team had a makeup of a Big Ten and NCAA tournament contender.
The Terps produced mixed results since then, winning two of their next four contests, but Turgeon remains confident his young squad can overcome the inconsistent stretch.
“Our guys had never played a home game and were good, and they never played on the road and they were great,” Turgeon said. “Sometimes the youth is good. You just show up and do it.”