COLLEGE PARK -- For those inclined to linger under the notion that winning cures everything, all that mattered on Wednesday night at Comcast Center was that the Maryland men's basketball team shook off an amazingly inept first half to defeat Notre Dame and move back above .500 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
If only it were that simple.
The Terps did look like a different team in the second half, as they came back from a nine-point halftime deficit to outscore the Irish by 17 points in the final 20 minutes, but therein lies the reason it's so hard to figure out just what's up with them.
The only thing that's apparent right now is that they are lucky they are still in the ACC, where there just might be enough beatable teams to allow them to reach the NCAA tournament.
They're also very fortunate that they were playing a reeling Notre Dame team that recently lost its leading scorer to academic problems, or else they might have been so far back at intermission that this would be a very different story.
Coach Mark Turgeon was certainly happy with the win, which picked the Terps up after a pair of unflattering losses at Pittsburgh and Florida State, but it was clearly one of those don't-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry situations that doesn't really reveal anything more than we already know about his mercurial team.
Make no mistake: It was an important win regardless of the glaring lack of style points in the first half, but moreso because of what another home loss to an unranked team would have said about the Terps' chances of getting where they need to go this season.
Never mind what the fans might be whispering about Turgeon if they had played in the second half the way they played in the first, after losing so badly in their previous two games.
"As a coach, you try not to panic,'' Turgeon said. "I felt like we lost to two good teams. Did I like the way we finished against Pittsburgh? No, but Pittsburgh is really good, and I think that will show. I think Florida State is terrific and they were unbelievable that night. You've just got to move on. You've got to feel embarrassed. You've got to come to practice and be more determined. You have to have that self-evaluation."
And you've got to win just about every winnable conference game at home to have a realistic chance of taking a step forward this year, instead of back.
Maybe it's too early to talk about critical games. Turgeon said as much on Tuesday afternoon, but there was no denying that the Terps took the floor needing to get some things figured out if they are ever to play consistently enough to beat the kind of teams that have been beating up on them.
Of course, one game wasn't going to answer all the questions that have followed Turgeon and his team through the early part of the 2013-14 season. The Terps have been plagued at various times by all manner of on-court dysfunction, from poor ball movement, to even poorer ball security, to questionable overall chemistry.
The ugly first half of Wednesday's game featured all of that and more, which left Turgeon so mystified that his halftime message was to stop pressing and try to have some fun.
"I really didn't know what to say,'' he said. "But I walked in there and said 'I don't know what I've done to you guys, but we're not playing the way we're capable of playing, so we'll make a pact. We're just going to have fun. We're going to smile. We're going to have fun. If you miss a shot, you can smile. It's okay to miss a shot, and we're just going to try to have fun. If you do that, and we have fun, and we play the way we're capable, we can win this game.'
"It was really that simple, and maybe we learned something as a staff about the way we approach things. The kind of year it's been, it hasn't gone the way we wanted. There was a lot of pressure. We had to win this game, and I think our guys felt it."
Maybe it is that simple, but the proof will be in the way the Terps build on Wednesday night's game — or don't.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.