Before the season began, Coach Mark Turgeon knew his program needed to have both a schedule and a list of schools he could call if it needed to find a game on short notice. That’s how all teams are operating, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing abrupt cancellations when positive tests emerge in programs. At Maryland, Mark Bialkoski, director of basketball operations, tries to plan around the uncertainty — communicating with other programs and embracing flexibility.
After Monmouth canceled, Maryland scheduled Towson to play on the same date. But the day before the matchup, Towson had to cancel, too. Turgeon said his staff talked to around 15 or 20 schools, looking for a new opponent. The Terps landed on a road game against James Madison this Saturday.
On Wednesday, George Mason canceled its Friday game at Maryland after a person in the Patriots’ program tested positive for the virus. This time, the Terps already had a list of possible opponents from their effort to replace the Towson game, so Bialkoski nailed down a matchup against Saint Peter’s within about 30 minutes.
“Players were probably upset for a second, but I told them whenever a game gets canceled we’re going to try really hard to get another opponent,” Turgeon said. “So I think they’re on board. Kids go with the flow, man.”
When searching for games, Maryland’s assistants called other coaches they know. The staff looks at the other games that have been canceled and pinpoints the programs that are in a similar position as theirs. When asked what he’s looking for when rescheduling these games, Turgeon said, “Any way we can get it.”
Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey recently tweeted: “This is not a drill! [Notre Dame is] looking for an opponent Dec. 4/5. And we will travel … (safely of course) Reach out and let’s hoop.”
Turgeon said Maryland called Notre Dame, but a game against the Irish “just didn’t fit.”
Senior guard Darryl Morsell heard about the Towson cancellation at a meeting before practice Monday. He thinks the staff sent a message telling the players about the plan to play at James Madison, and found out about the newly scheduled Saint Peter’s matchup via social media. Morsell said he knows whether Maryland will practice or play on any given day can change unexpectedly.
“It’s definitely been different,” Morsell said. “We typically have everything scheduled, everything lined up. But with the cancellation and the changes, our practices have been moved around and stuff like that. But it’s what we expected. Coming into this season we knew that we were playing with a world pandemic going on, so we’re just try to be as flexible as we can as a team.”
Maryland’s original schedule included four games in seven days, beginning with the season opener Nov. 25. But with the Towson game canceled and replaced by a matchup four days later, the Terps had more time to practice and were off Tuesday.
The adjusted schedule means the Terps will play their first road game earlier in the season than expected. The team will travel to Harrisonburg, Va., to face the Dukes after playing Saint Peter’s on Friday at 3 p.m. Terps players said they don’t have concerns about playing back-to-back days because of their experience in AAU and past college tournaments.
“I thought it would be better to go in the night before, feed the guys when we get there and let them get a good night’s rest,” Turgeon said. “ … We’ll treat it like a Big Ten tournament game. You play one day, and the next day you wake up and you walk through stuff and you play the game.”
Early this fall, a Maryland player contracted the virus and then it “kind of went around our team a little bit,” Turgeon said. The Terps paused practices, but they haven’t had any recent coronavirus issues within the program. Maryland players are tested six times per week. At night, Turgeon said the staff tells the players to “control your bubble” by making smart decisions and not inadvertently exposing themselves to the virus.
“This is something that we had taken away from us for eight months,” junior guard Aaron Wiggins said. “And we love this game and we want to be able to play. It’s obviously very different. It’s obviously tough. But we’ve got guys who are willing to make sacrifices, who are willing to stay as healthy as possible and make sure that we’re able to play games.”