By Ryan Romano
Many factors have driven the rapid improvement of the Terps men’s basketball team — the addition of guard Rasheed Sulaimon and forward Robert Carter Jr., guard Melo Trimble’s continued development and coach Mark Turgeon’s leadership.
But the dominance of the last two years wouldn’t have happened without a turnaround in close games.
During Turgeon’s first three seasons at the helm, the Terps posted a respectable record of 59-43. In that span, however, they went just 14-16 in close games (those with a margin of victory of five points or fewer). Even with the talent they had, the inability to gut out tight games held them back.
That has since changed, and for the better. In the 2014-15 season, the Terps went 28-7 overall and 9-1 in close games. They’ve sustained that success in the 2015-16 season, with a 22-4 record as a whole and a 4-1 record in five-point contests.
Nick Fleming, a senior mechanical engineering major, has enjoyed the experience of neck-and-neck matches this season, which he said have gotten better from past years.
“Everybody’s so hyped and jumping around and yelling,” Fleming said. “It’s a great atmosphere.”
For students like Fleming, who have attended games for several years, the recent success is simply an added bonus. Not everyone shared that enthusiasm, though. Since the Terps have become one of the better teams in the country, many fans have expected them to cruise to victory.
“We’re such a good team that we expect to win every game, so sometimes when it’s a really close game, we’re just disappointed,” said Matt Sniezek, a freshman mechanical engineering major.
Sniezek nevertheless welcomed exciting close games, “especially when they pull it off,” he said.
C.J. Palting, a freshman economics major, echoed those sentiments. The team has underperformed against some “not-so-great” teams, he said, leading to close games that are “kind of disappointing.”
But no matter the opponent, an even fight will make for a thrilling show.
“When it gets down to it, and if it’s a good game, then it’s pretty exciting,” Palting said.
As the Terps approach the NCAA Tournament, they’ll look to maintain their skill in close games. If they make a run toward the championship — and win a few tight bouts to get there — the electric atmosphere at Xfinity Center will draw in fans both old and new.
“It’s one of my favorite things about Maryland, when it’s a close game and all the fans are up,” Palting said. “There’s a lot of unity in the crowd.”