Looser play has lifted Terps in the postseason

It was a blink-of-an-eye highlight from an otherwise unremarkable win over Wake Forest. But three weeks later, it serves as a vivid example of when the Maryland Terrapins began their transformation from uptight underachievers to a loose team on its way to realizing its potential.

When Maryland (25-12) faces Iowa (24-12) in the NIT semifinals Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Terps will enter with a carefree confidence demonstrated in a five-second snippet in their ACC tournament opener in Greensboro, N.C.

Sophomore Dez Wells started the sequence, stealing a pass on the wing and saving the ball as it bounced toward the sideline. In one motion, junior Pe'Shon Howard gathered the loose ball with his left hand and bounced it up court with his right to sophomore Nick Faust. He dribbled once and bounced it behind his back and across the lane to the trailing Wells for a two-handed slam, which was serenaded at the Maryland bench by an overhand, roundhouse fist pump by coach Mark Turgeon.

NIT semifinals
Maryland vs. Iowa
When » Tuesday, 9 p.m.
Where » Madison Square Garden, New York

While most college basketball teams have wrapped up their seasons, the Terps are still having fun, making the most of their opportunity in large part because of their newfound relaxed approach.

"I don't know if there was a defining moment," freshman Jake Layman said. "I think we're just getting into a groove offensively. We're not rushing too much. It's coming easily to us."

After Maryland's worst performance this year at home, a 79-68 loss on March 6 to North Carolina in a game the Terps desperately needed to enhance their NCAA tournament profile, Turgeon said he altered his approach.

"After the North Carolina game I was like, 'All right, we're gonna have fun,'?" Turgeon said. "We're still serious in practice. We talked about being loose and making runs. It's easy to do this time of year. It's hard to do in January because it's such a long season."

The Terps' ability to relax in difficult situations was apparent in the second half of a 58-57 NIT quarterfinal win at Alabama. Sophomore Alex Len (15 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks) was dominant inside, and Layman (13 points, three steals, two blocks) provided a spark off the bench. The work came from two of the Terps who have struggled away from Comcast Center.

"It was our best game on the road," Len said. "If it was a month ago, we probably would have lost."

In going 5-1 in the postseason, Maryland has been led by the trio who combined on the highlight play against Wake. After totaling 15 assists to 14 turnovers in ACC road games, Howard has been a stabilizer at the point in the postseason, collecting 18 assists with just six turnovers.

While Faust has averaged 11.2 points and 5.0 rebounds, Wells has become the team's undisputed leader, averaging 18.3 points and 5.5 rebounds and hitting 57.4 percent from the field and eight of 11 shots from beyond the arc.

"We look like a team that feels comfortable now in everything we're trying to do," Turgeon said.