I’ll be the first to admit that that Duke game sucked on so many levels. A backbreaking, last-second loss in what can only be deemed a “must-win” game against your biggest rival whom you’re playing for the last time as an ACC member. It’s stuff ESPN “30 for 30″‘s are made of, and it’s one that I’ll be sure to tell my kids about long after the Maryland-Duke rivalry has been completely forgotten; relegated to a small Wikipedia article that needs citations.
The game itself was so symbolic, too. The Terrapins lost on the court in North Carolina, ACC headquarters. They’re battling in the courtroom under similar circumstances, only the players have been replaced with suits. And with the odds stacked against them in a massive way, the Terps almost played spoiler to the Blue Devils and the ACC on national television. Unfortunately, they fell short of showing the ACC what they’re going to be missing in the future; rather, it looks like their quiet dismissal of everything Maryland felt justified.
And yet, it’s hard to quantify how proud most people watching had to feel about these Terrapins. This was a 14-11 team that hadn’t won a single marquee game, going blow for blow with a bunch of McDonald’s All-American’s and a conference that just wants them out. They took the #8 team in the nation wire-to-wire, ensuring the whole game that those fans who were all too ready to chant “ACC!” for the country to hear, were subdued into silence as they watched their team get beaten up.
The Terps played that game with the odds stacked against them from the start, too. On the road, almost twenty point underdogs, with Karl Hess refereeing, in North Carolina. It wasn’t the ideal conditions for life, to put it lightly. And despite Duke getting 34 free throws to the Terps 19, and the announcers themselves noting that Maryland has received zero favors all year from the ACC, there they were. Still fighting, still not giving up.
Dez Wells once again proved why he is one of the most valuable players in the country. Not just the ACC, folks. Wells is playing on another altitude than everyone else right now. He’s hit double figures in the scoring department in all but three games this season, and he’s got all of Maryland’s opponents planning their defenses around how to stop him. And they can’t. Foul trouble was the only thing that prevented Wells from outplaying Jabari Parker; he played just over 25 minutes and dropped 17 all in the second half. That’s hard to do.
Then of course there was Jake Layman, who was properly lambasted for his poor performance during road games prior to the Duke game. Layman shook of all his demons and came out with a focus we’ve yet to see from him this year. He got the same looks as ever, but boy was he draining them. His 18 points were big time, and without them Maryland gets completely blown out. It felt as if each shot Layman made was directed at his critics, given that twinkle in his eye.
Defensively, that was the best game Maryland’s played all season long. The Terps honed in, and clearly something clicked for them. The entire team had their hands up on shooters, for once, and look what happened. They held the, statistically speaking, most efficient offense in the nation to their worst shooting performance of the season (33% from the floor). The Terps destroyed Duke, fouled hard, and didn’t cede an easy bucket.
Sure, the matchup was great; Duke doesn’t have a big man and Charles Mitchell knows how to score down low. Still, three point shooting teams have been pummeling Maryland’s game plan all year long, and yet the Terps varied their defense up enough to crush Duke. Duke! That’s coaching. Mark Turgeon’s back-and-forth between man-to-man and a 1-3-1 defense was nothing short of amazing, and Duke looked flummoxed every time the Terps switched it up. Duke didn’t even score for seven minutes in the second half, at home no less. At one point, Coach K even called a timeout and literally drew up what the heck Maryland was doing so his team didn’t look so stupid.
Maryland lost the game, and there’s no denying that they needed a win like that to get into the NCAA tournament picture. They didn’t get it, and while it still didn’t demolish the dream of going to the big dance, the Grim Reaper is knocking at the door. But there’s also no denying that this team is playing some beastly basketball right now.
No one wants to play the Terrapins. Every team left on the schedule took notice of what the Terrapins are capable of when they get up for games, and boy have they been getting up for games lately. When all cylinders are firing (and they’re coming close right now), this team isn’t going to go lightly. You’d better believe that Syracuse, Virginia, and Clemson want nothing to do with Maryland considering the season’s they’re having. And yet they’re going to get them.
And if you think Coach K wants to play Maryland again in the ACC tournament, you’re dreaming. Maryland could beat Duke on a neutral court. They could beat anyone at home, and they’ll definitely be hard to beat for these last few games. At the very least, during a season where nothing has gone particularly right, they’re going to do their best to try and throw a wrench in the ACC’s dream season’s from here on out. Give Syracuse their first loss, maybe win the ACC tournament, come out as winners against Virginia and deny them an ACC banner.
Then when it’s all over, they’ll spend their offseason battling some more with the ACC in the courtroom and waiting for the Big Ten to welcome them in.
No one wants the Terps right now, but when have they ever anyway?