Sixty-one years of heated rivalries, heartbreaking defeats and unforgettable victories will come to an end Sunday for Maryland when the Terrapins play their final home game as a member of the ACC.
Going out with a win won’t be easy, however, as they face No. 5 Virginia, which has won 13 in a row, has already claimed its first outright regular-season conference championship in 33 years and is trying to become the first ACC team with 17 league wins.
Before moving to the Big Ten next season, Maryland (17-14, 8-9) still has work to do in the ACC. With a victory over the Cavaliers (25-5, 16-1) in the regular-season finale, the Terps will finish .500 in league play and perhaps generate some momentum for the ACC tournament.
Just as important, a win would add flair to what promises to be an emotional afternoon. Former coaches Gary Williams and Lefty Driesell will be in attendance, and one-time stars Juan Dixon, Tom McMillen and Walt Williams will sign autographs beforehand for many in the sellout crowd.
”It will be a great atmosphere, especially for our fans,” said Dixon, a member of the 2002 national championship team and now an assistant coach at Maryland. ”We had such an amazing run in the ACC with so many memorable moments. We want to finish up the regular season on a strong note, and we have an opportunity to thank all of our fans and alumni for all of their support over the last 61 years.”
Current coach Mark Turgeon has the responsibility of taking the team through its final ACC season and, months from now, guiding the Terrapins into a new era.
”You could look at it like, ‘Oh, why do I have to go through this?’ or you can look at it like, ‘What an honor for me to coach in the last ACC season,”’ Turgeon said after Saturday’s practice. ”Give the ACC credit, giving us Virginia, our last home game instead of being on the road. But the last day of the season to have this game, I feel honored to be a part of it. I feel honored to be part of a move to the Big Ten, too.”
The players knew for weeks that this wouldn’t be just another game, and that point was hammered home Saturday. On the wall of seats beyond one of the baskets, placards were arranged so that a huge No. 61 was in red within a white backdrop. Free red shirts commemorating the event were placed on the lower-bowl seats.
”It’s pretty cool,” junior forward Evan Smotrycz said. ”There’s lot of history with Maryland in the ACC, and hopefully we can finish it off the right way.”
Since becoming a charter member of the ACC in 1953, the Terrapins have earned five regular-season league titles and won the ACC tournament three times. They are 447-435 overall, including 106-74 against Virginia – their most common opponent in program history.
The series with the Cavaliers has been one-sided over the past few years, though, with Virginia winning the last six matchups.
Joe Harris scored 16 of his 19 points after halftime for the Cavaliers, who had just six turnovers and limited Maryland to 6-of-21 shooting from 3-point range in a 61-53 win Feb. 10.
Virginia, which boasts the nation’s top scoring defense at 54.8 points per game, held No. 7 Syracuse to 35.7 percent shooting last Saturday as it cruised to a 75-56 victory to secure its first outright ACC regular-season title since 1980-81.
”Super exciting,” said sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, who averages a team-best 12.6 points. ”You could do nothing but smile at that point when you beat a good team like that and you’re having success like we’re having. It’s surreal when you think about it.”
Virginia tied the 1998-99 Duke team, which went 16-0 in conference play, for the ACC record for league wins, and hasn’t lost since falling on the road to the Blue Devils by four points on Jan. 13.
”If we could beat them the last home ACC game that would be huge,” Smotrycz said.