COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Maryland sure needed this win.
The Terrapins needed to beat No. 2 Duke to give a healthy boost to their NCAA tournament chances. The Terps did that with a thrilling, 83-81 victory that carried numerous storylines within the game’s 40 minutes.
But Maryland needed this for its soul, too.
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This is a school, and primarily a program, that has long felt out of place in the ACC. Former coach Lefty Driesell often joked that if he won the ACC tournament he’d drive around the state of North Carolina with the trophy attached to the hood of his car. Former coach Gary Williams, who led the program to the national championship in 2002, couldn’t stand the fact that most of the conference tournaments were in Greensboro or Charlotte.
Maryland coaches and fans have complained about being Guam compared with the rest of the league, and with the school’s decision to leave the ACC for the Big Ten, the animosity is more shared from around the conference back at the school and they know it. Hence, the next notch.
Add the fact that Duke had become Maryland’s arch enemy over the last decade-plus and you get the gist of how important this win is.
“There’s a lot of pride in Maryland basketball, a lot of pride …” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “There’s also a lot of passion. We talked about pride and passion and playing with those two things tonight, for us and for our fans.”
Turgeon told his team it needed to fuel every bit it could into beating Duke. Playing Duke close is one thing, beating the Blue Devils is another.
Maryland did that with a lunch-pail mentality and with lunch-pail guys. The Terrapins’ beefy inside rotation of freshman Shaquille Cleare (6 feet 9, 265 pounds), senior James Padgett (6-8, 235) and freshman Charles Mitchell (6-8, 260) combined with the limitless potential of 7-1 center Alex Len (19 points, nine rebounds) simply took a toll on Duke’s best player, center Mason Plumlee.
The scratches, scrapes, welts and gash-like red spots on Plumlee’s face and neck after the game told an important story.
“All of their big guys played very well today,” Plumlee said. “They made it difficult for us on both ends of the court. We weren’t able to execute.”
His coach wasn’t interested in talking about Maryland’s brute-like rotation even though it was a vital factor in the outcome. Cleare, Mitchell and Padgett combined for 21 points and 10 rebounds in 44 minutes of action. They were also only whistled for six fouls. Plumlee fouled out.
“You know, tonight it isn’t about rotations or X’s and O’s,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “We don’t have bigs. If Mason’s not playing, it’s a matter of we’re trying to survive. We’ve been trying to survive since Ryan’s (6-11 forward Ryan Kelly) been out, and Mason’s carried us, and tonight he wasn’t playing well.”
Krzyzewski’s handling of questions in the postgame revealed clearly he wasn’t happy his team was beaten in the grit department. Duke usually owns that, and displayed a bit just to be in the game at the end. But Maryland cornered the market on it Saturday.
To limit Plumlee to four points and three rebounds required the passion Turgeon spoke about for the entire program. That’s why, as the game progressed, hollers from the stands at Plumlee for his performance increased, and many of them weren’t exactly pleasantries.
Rude, crude or whatever you call it, the words reflected just how Maryland feels about Duke. Toss in the ACC, too. So it wasn’t a surprise when the public address announcer said over the very loud sound system at Comcast Center and while a sea of students celebrated on the court that there was a bonfire scheduled for later in the evening.
Maryland’s victory had a lot to do with the Terrapins (18-7, 6-6 ACC) raising their RPI from the No. 75 spot it occupied entering the contest to better situate themselves for the NCAAs. But you can bet your bottom dollar it had a lot to do with decades of mostly self-created frustration and an almost-unhealthy animosity toward all things Duke and Coach K.
In a way, Krzyzewski’s reaction to a question about this possibly being Duke’s last game in College Park was quite fascinating, given the reality of the situation.
“I have a great deal of respect for Maryland, but if it was such a rivalry, they’d still be in the ACC,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “So, obviously they don’t think it’s that important or else they wouldn’t be in the Big Ten.”
Maryland guard Nick Faust didn’t need many words to describe exactly what this victory was about for those who love the turtle.
“It was a big win for us,” he said, “(and) for the school.”