A few hours before the Maryland men's basketball team's 77-71 win over Ohio State on Jan. 31, coach Mark Turgeon held a basketball at half court of Value City Arena with dessert on the line.
The Terps have kept the mood light on away trips with shooting games before contests, so Turgeon promised his players chocolate cake if he made the attempt. He drained it, and the team mobbed him.
After winning its first five Big Ten road games, Maryland seemed to lose its groove on the road after a 70-64 loss to Penn State on Feb. 7. But Wednesday — the team's first chance to avenge the lapse away from Xfinity Center — Turgeon regained his momentum from deep and the Terps triumphed, 74-64, at Northwestern.
The coach's swish earned the players cheesecake, and Maryland hopes its unflustered approach continues Sunday at No. 11 Wisconsin, a contest that may decide the top seed in the Big Ten.
"Coaches talk about how important this week was to get on top of the Big Ten standings," guard Melo Trimble said. "Northwestern is a really good team. To come out here and win this game is really special for this team and gives us a lot of confidence going to Wisconsin."
With three freshman starters this season, Turgeon didn't know what to expect from his squad on the road. But the sixth-year coach learned how composed his players were in the Terps' 76-75 win at Georgetown on Nov. 15 after Maryland trailed by six with 37 seconds left.
The Terps won two road games by one point in nonconference play, and Trimble scored the game-winning points in each. The junior has been the catalyst for Maryland's poise down the stretch by controlling the pace of the game and scoring when the Terps are in a drought.
"I tell him all the time, 'You're not going to be able to score 30 every night, you might not get 20, you may not even get 10 sometimes, but as long as you do the little things and if we keep winning, that takes care of a lot,'" center Damonte Dodd said.
Maryland went on a roll after its first Big Ten road win, earning the team's best start in program history. But since their road winning streak ended last week against the Nittany Lions, which is 6-8 in conference play. The Terps shot a season-low 33.9 percent, and the grace the team had displayed in road games disappeared.
With the Terps facing their toughest travel stretch of the season this week, though, they didn't change their approach. Maryland remained focused while fixing its defensive lapses. They turned to Trimble for a career-high 32 points in Evanston, Illinois, during a game in which the Terps led by as many as 20.
"I could feel the crowd really wanted to get into the game," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "We weren't able to get into the game. They were a little bit quicker — their movement, where they were cutting, their defense. They outplayed us."
Still, the Terps' toughest road test looms. Before losing to Northwestern on Feb. 12, Wisconsin hadn't lost at home in 19 tries, since Trimble drained the game-winning 3-pointer on Jan. 9, 2016.
If the Terps beat the Badgers, they'll move into a first-place tie atop the Big Ten rankings, positioning themselves for a strong seed in the NCAA tournament.
But even while facing high stakes, don't be surprised if the Terps are pulling up from half court before the contest.
"We have some … guys who are tough mentally," Turgeon said. "It shows on the road."