Games like today’s showdown against top-ranked Duke for the ACC lead before a national TV audience are one reason why Maryland coach Gary Williams never considered retiring after winning the NCAA championship last season.
“Look at the NBA during the regular season you just don’t find many spots that measure up to this,” Williams said. “Sometimes there’s a tendency to forget about what you’re doing. This is what we do. You don’t get the opportunity to play the No.1 team in the country very often in an atmosphere like this.”
ABC broadcaster Dick Vitale will be screaming. So will 17,950 Terrapins fanatics who have been wearing anti-Duke shirts since the season started. No matter that the rivalry moves from Cole Field House, where Maryland upset No.1 Duke last season, to new Comcast Center. One of college basketball’s leading rivalries is resuming, and the Terrapins just wonder if the intensity on the floor will match the adrenalin in the stands.
“I’m scared,” forward Tahj Holden said jokingly. “Hopefully, people don’t fall down the steep wall [behind the basket] just because they’re so excited.”
Said guard Steve Blake: “Something great might happen.”
Added center Ryan Randle: “This game is going to mean everything.”
Certainly Maryland (9-4) needs an emotional lift after losing 81-72 at Wake Forest on Wednesday as several younger players seemed awestruck in their first game on an opposing floor. The Terps needed more than 10 minutes to acclimate and never overcame the early deficit as Williams conceded, “We didn’t let it go. There was some holding back there.”
Players were clearly frustrated in the locker room, especially after a shoving match during postgame handshakes with the Demon Deacons. The scuffle seemed to energize the Terps, and that should carry over against Duke.
“[The level of play is] so close this year that emotion becomes a big part of teams,” Williams said. “We can’t afford to go flat during games. We’ll see whatever emotions are out there in Comcast Center to help us out.”
Maryland’s seniors have spent the past two days stressing the rivalry’s importance to the five newcomers. No doubt Duke’s veterans did the same. The Blue Devils also have key newcomers in J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph, but the turnover hasn’t prevented the Blue Devils from starting 12-0 in their bid for a second national title in three years.
“It’s like a Fortune 500 company they’ve got everything,” Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. “For them to lose three great players and still be No.1 in the country, that’s mind-boggling. I’m speechless, and [usually] I could talk to a stop sign.”
Holden may start for Maryland as Williams considers a shakeup after poor play by freshmen forwards Travis Garrison and Nik Caner-Medley against Wake Forest. Guard Calvin McCall also could get more time at small forward after a standout effort at Wake Forest. The Terps need to rebound better, and lineups could be tailored to opponents.
“There’s not going to be that automatic rotation,” Williams said.
Meanwhile, Williams apologized in a statement for discussing an official he claimed intimated retaliation in a coming game during the Wake Forest loss.
The ACC accepted the apology and commissioner John D. Swofford said referee Doug Shows was suspended for one game for his “mishandling of a game management situation.”
Shows apparently told Williams he would “see you next week” after calling two technicals against the Terps.
“My comments following the Wake Forest game should not be construed as criticism of the league office,” Williams said in the statement. “To the contrary, the ACC has always been responsive to concerns raised by the University of Maryland and the basketball program. It was not my intent to comment publicly on the quality of the officiating in the game. My comments were inappropriate, and I have apologized to the commissioner for them.”