(Jeff Bartl/AP) — Maryland received its official introduction to the Big Ten in late December with a thrilling victory at perennial conference heavyweight Michigan State.
By the time the Terrapins routed the Spartans just over two weeks later, they were fully entrenched.READ MORE: Baltimore County Police Seeking Missing 12-Year-Old Girl From Halethorpe
Now, No. 8 Maryland can advance to the Big Ten tournament championship game in its inaugural season in the conference with another win over Michigan State on Saturday.
Nearly 60 years after being named a founding member of the ACC, the Terps bolted for the Big Ten and were picked to finish 10th in the 14-team league by the media.
Maryland (27-5), coming off a 17-15 campaign in 2013-14, made a smoother-than-anticipated transition and finished second behind Wisconsin. Its first conference game prepared it for the task ahead, as Dez Wells hit a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to tie it before finishing with 16 points in a 68-66 double-overtime win over Michigan State on Dec. 30.
The Terps won five of their first six conference games, capped with a 75-59 home win over the Spartans (22-10) on Jan. 17 as freshman standout Melo Trimble scored 24 points and Jake Layman finished with a season-high 23.
Now they’ll have a chance to be the first team to beat Michigan State three times in a season since Wisconsin in 2003-04.
Maryland will make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010, when it lost to the Spartans on a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the round of 32. But first, it has its sights set on winning a Big Ten title.
The Terps advanced to face third-seeded Michigan State after beating No. 7 seed Indiana 75-69 on Friday.READ MORE: Housing Records Reveal Stricker Street Property Long Vacant, Site Of 2015 Fire
“We’re used to having to grind it out, so that’s kind of like the stigma with the Big Ten,” said Wells, who scored 22 points. “It’s grind-it-out kind of games. We’re all focused. We’ve all bought in to what coach (Mark) Turgeon wants from us this year. It’s a special thing we have.”
Trimble finished with 17 points for the Terps, who have won eight straight for the first time since a 13-game run from Nov. 12, 2012-Jan. 5, 2013.
“This group has been phenomenal,” Turgeon said. “I’m just glad we’re in the final four (of the conference tournament). That’s pretty cool.”
Reserve forward Michal Cekovsky sat out with a stomach virus, but Turgeon said he hopes to have him back against the Spartans, who advanced to the
semifinals with Friday’s 76-67 win over sixth-seeded Ohio State.
Michigan State, which has won three in a row, took home last year’s tournament championship and is seeking its third title in four years.
“(March) is where Michigan State basketball has made their history, and we want to keep the tradition going,” said Denzel Valentine, who hit 9 of 14 from the field and scored 23 points against the Buckeyes. “We don’t want to be the ones that let the former players down. That’s a big emphasis, and when it comes March, everybody plays better, and our focus is a little bit more, and we want to win.”
Coach Tom Izzo has guided the Spartans to a national title, a runner-up finish and six Final Fours since 1999, the most appearances by any school during that span. This is the time of year he looks forward to most.MORE NEWS: 3 Baltimore Firefighters Killed In Partial Building Collapse, 1 In Critical Condition
“If there’s a better thing to do during March Madness than to stay up all night and work, it’s the greatest thing there is,” Izzo said. “I love the moment, I love the opportunity. I’m getting a little old for it, but it’s still a lot of fun.”