Coach Kevin Willard was optimistic about his squad’s chances to improve its fortunes away from home before Maryland men’s basketball’s final two regular season games. But he lamented its ability to close out games on the road.
The Terps suffered close losses in away games throughout Willard’s inaugural year, and blew a double-digit advantage with less than five minutes remaining in their regular season finale at Penn State, capping off a tumultuous road stretch in conference play that resulted in a 1-9 record away from home against Big Ten opponents.
Maryland’s only Big Ten road win came against Minnesota, which finished last in the regular season conference standings. The Terps dropped out of the Top 25 of the AP poll Monday, receiving just two votes and three points in the latest poll after ending their regular season with two losses at Ohio State and Penn State.
Willard’s squad let a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament quite literally slip through its fingers on the final second of the game, giving up an offensive rebound to a Nittany Lions team that ranks fourth to last in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. The rebound led to Penn State’s game-winning layup in a one-point defeat.
However, Maryland will aim to quickly rebound from the loss ahead of a second-round matchup in the Big Ten tournament Thursday as it enters the postseason — a first look at a Willard-led Terps team in a win-or-go-home situation.
“It’s single-elimination, it’s a whole different time of year,” Willard said. “That’s what sports is all about, you got to be able to bounce back. [If you] can’t bounce back, you shouldn’t be playing sports.”
Maryland will play at neutral sites in its remaining games, with the Big Ten tournament taking place in Chicago and the NCAA tournament being hosted at different predetermined sites.
Willard isn’t concerned with the Terps’ away record heading into the postseason with their performances at neutral sites against Saint Louis, Miami and Tennessee. The Terps eased past the Billikens and now-No. 14 Hurricanes in Connecticut and lost by three points to the now-No. 17 Volunteers at Barclays Center earlier this season.
Maryland will be the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament after Sunday’s loss and will take on the winner of No. 11-seed Nebraska and No. 14-seed Minnesota, who play in the first round Wednesday.
The Terps swept the season series against Minnesota and split it with Nebraska, winning by 19 at home and losing in overtime on the road.
The seed pits Maryland in the lower half of the Big Ten tournament bracket against teams it’s found success against this season.
The Terps are 7-2 against the six other teams in the bottom half of the bracket and are 3-0 against each single-digit seed — Northwestern, Indiana and Illinois. The only two losses came at Nebraska in overtime and at Penn State Sunday.
Maryland is just 4-7 against teams in the top half of the conference tournament bracket, but the difference in record between the two halves of the bracket aligns heavily with opponents the Terps have played at home or on the road.
The Terps defeated Northwestern, Indiana and Illinois in their only meetings at Xfinity Center and suffered away losses in their matchups at Michigan State, Iowa and Rutgers.
With the nature of the postseason, Willard hopes his squad can take lessons and move on from its last few possessions of regular season play in its approach to win-or-go-home games.
“We gave them that momentum, you can’t give momentum in single elimination games,” Willard said.