With Iowa win, Maryland charts a new course: From good to great

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Let's face it: Losing at the Breslin Center is no time to panic. It is, after all, how most visits to East Lansing tend to conclude.

It's hard to win anywhere, but few road prospects are more daunting than standing opposite a Tom Izzo-coached team in front of those raucous Michigan State fans packed in that arena. So you come prepared, play hard and do your best. If -- mostly when -- your defeat proceeds apace, you swallow it, take a lesson or two home, move on and get better. It happens.

That's more or less how Mark Turgeon viewed things, anyway. Maryland's 74-65 loss at MSU on Saturday may not have been his team's finest offensive hour -- and, sure, it moved the Terrapins to 0-2 against ranked teams this season, and the coach would surely hear that nugget ad nauseam in the days to come -- but it is his job to know when to keep calm.

"The whole world, everybody that cares about Maryland basketball, was in a panic," Turgeon said. "But we never were."

So Turgeon gave his players Sunday and Monday off. No punishment, no sprints. Just two days of rest.

It was just what the doctor ordered, the perfect way to ramp up for a massive home game against No. 3-ranked Iowa -- and, according to players, crucial to the Terrapins' energetic, tireless 74-68 home win over one of the nation's best teams Thursday night. But fresh legs were just the baseline benefits of a stretch that may come to be a turning point in the season. Just not for the exact reasons Turgeon had in mind.

"The [rest] was important, but I think it was important for different reasons," said Maryland guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who scored 17 points Thursday. "We also grew a lot as a team. We spent a lot of time just talking, kind of looking in hindsight at what we could have done better, and the things we did do well. We had a couple of players-only meetings. We got on the same page.

"It's a fine line between being a good and a great team. The little things like chemistry and stuff like that -- it makes a big difference."

It is that fine line -- the line between good and great -- on which Maryland currently finds itself perched. The Terrapins entered the 2015-16 season with sky-high national title expectations, both internally and externally. They have done little since to dispel the possibility. They were 17-3 overall, playing the Big Ten's best defense. They looked like the team they were supposed to be: balanced, flexible, extremely talented.

Yet Maryland had also done little to turn the possibility of a national title run into something a little more likely. Their two games against ranked foes -- losses at Michigan State and North Carolina -- were a function of schedule as much as skill, but the fact remains that Maryland took until Thursday to beat its first elite team. (A close loss at Michigan didn't help.)

Meanwhile, the Terps' offense, that fever-dream mix of Melo Trimble and Sulaimon in the backcourt and Diamond Stone, Jake Layman and Robert Carter up front, still hadn't totally clicked. After Thursday, the Terps remain seventh in points per trip in league play. Every flash of genius -- and they average at least one per game -- typically is followed by a missed 3 or a turnover.

Maryland is tantalizing. It is also frustrating. Even to Maryland.

Which is why -- at least to hear Sulaimon tell it -- the days between the Michigan State loss and the Iowa win was an extended, multi-day, players-only meeting. Dinners, hotel rooms, plane rides, off days and practice days continued, in spirit at least, until Stone and Iowa's Adam Woodbury jostled for the opening tip Thursday night. The quorum comprised the entire team. The agenda was constant. We should be better.

"We're 20 games in," Sulaimon said. "Twenty-one now. We need to start making strides. … We have all the talent in the world. On paper, we look great. But that doesn't win you games."

Thursday night's victory should qualify as a step in that direction. The Hawkeyes entered with a 7-0 record in the Big Ten despite playing Michigan State and Purdue twice apiece, home and away; it was an intelligent, savvy, experienced team that just so happened to feature one of the best players -- forward Jarrod Uthoff -- in the sport.

As the Spartans and Boilermakers can attest, beating Iowa anywhere is no easy task, and it was no different for Maryland at the XFinity Center. The Terps defended Uthoff, holding him to his worst performance of the season, and still found themselves barely clinging to a lead with 1 minute, 34 seconds left to play, when Carter was called for a questionable fifth foul.

The fans were incensed. Turgeon and his players were apoplectic. The Maryland bench called timeout.

"I don't remember [what was being said]," Turgeon said. "But we were mad."

Which is when Carter took over the timeout. He calmed Turgeon. He called Maryland's players together. He told them, in no uncertain terms, that they were going to win this game.

"Coach didn't even have to say anything," Sulaimon said.

"[Carter] was terrific after he fouled out," Turgeon said.

Maybe, in a few months, Turgeon and his Terrapins will look back on that moment, the fabled Robert Carter huddle, as the inflection point, the moment everything changed. Maybe not.

Either way, it doesn't happen without chemistry, trust and belief. It is the type of scene -- and Thursday is the type of win -- that can, perhaps, cross the border between good and great.