Maryland-Purdue Preview

(AP) - Coming off a rare five-day break that could not possibly have come at a better time, No. 10 Maryland expects to play its best basketball of the season at a time when it matters most.

After losing at home to Wisconsin on Feb. 13, absorbing an embarrassing defeat at Minnesota on Feb. 18 and squeezing past Michigan on Sunday, the Terrapins retreated to the film room and the gym to prepare for a final push they hope produces their first Big Ten title.

The objective was to find a way to cut down on turnovers entering the last three games of the regular season - a pivotal stretch that begins Saturday on the road against No. 20 Purdue.

Maryland (23-5, 11-4) has committed 12, 15 and 18 turnovers in the last three.

''Some of the turnovers have just been ridiculous,'' coach Mark Turgeon said Friday. ''We've run a lot of laps (in practice) this week for turnovers, we've run some steps for turnovers."

The good news for Turgeon is that Purdue (21-7, 9-6) is among the nation's worst teams in forcing turnovers at 9.8 per game, including a season-low four in last Saturday's 77-73 loss at then-No. 22 Indiana.

''It's not just about Saturday. It's about the rest of the season,'' he said. ''Hopefully we can really correct that. When we keep it around eight, nine or 10 we're a heck of a basketball team. That's kind of the goal moving forward.''

Despite its recent struggles, Maryland can gain at least a share of the Big Ten crown by defeating Purdue, Illinois and first-place Indiana. The Boilermakers are out of the race after losing three of five.

"The only thing we talk about is winning the league,'' Turgeon said. ''We control our own destiny. We don't have to have anybody beat Indiana for us to win the league. We have to do it. But we have to beat Purdue first. If we don't beat Purdue, we're probably out of it.''

Guard Melo Trimble used the five-day hiatus to refresh himself mentally and physically. The sophomore needed it, too, after going 7 for 35 from the field with a whopping 18 turnovers in his last three games.

''To be able to get that week off was really good to us, especially me,'' Trimble said. ''I was able to get a lot of stretching, a lot of things done to my body, yet I was able to stay in the gym and get a lot of shots up.''

Just two weeks ago, Trimble was playing brilliantly. Not coincidentally, Maryland won five in a row and was ranked No. 2 in the country. Then it all began to unravel: After having their 27-game home winning streak shattered by Wisconsin, the Terps fell to a Minnesota team that was winless in the Big Ten.

The squeaker over Michigan ended the skid but did not erase doubts as to whether Maryland has what it takes to go far in the NCAA Tournament.

''What I want us to do is start playing our best basketball. That's really what's important,'' Turgeon said. ''We're getting closer to that. I know we've lost two out of three, and like, `How can coach be saying that?' But it kind of woke us up.''

Maryland beat Purdue 72-61 on Feb. 6, but the Boilermakers led at halftime and are far tougher at home. Purdue is 15-1 at Mackey Arena and the last four ranked teams to visit all lost, including then-No. 8 Michigan State in overtime Feb. 9.

If the Terrapins play to their potential, however, they believe they can beat any team, anywhere.

''We looked at the losses we had. It was just mental mistakes, turnovers, rebounding, stuff like that,'' Trimble said. ''We know these last three games to end the season are very crucial for us and it's going to help us get better for the tournament.''

Forward Robert Carter Jr. added: ''At this point, we feel like we should be playing our best basketball. We're in tournament mode right now. We don't want to lose any games.''

Carter had a team-high 17 points Sunday and scored 19 in the win over the Boilermakers while Rasheed Sulaimon led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

A.J. Hammons had 18 points and 10 boards in that game, but that's the exception to the rule that Purdue generally needs him to be effective to win. The 7-foot senior has averaged 11.0 points and 5.5 boards in the Boilermakers' other six defeats. His averages are 17.2 and 9.1 in their 15 wins since the beginning of December.

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