In the feel-good locker room after Maryland’s 75-67 defeat of N.C. State Thursday, senior Cliff Tucker said he wished that the Terps hadn’t been in such a dire predicament entering the ACC Tournament, having ended the regular season on a three-game losing skid.
“But maybe it’s what we needed,” Tucker conceded. “We lost three in a row. We have nothing to lose. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Against 10th seeded N.C. State, seventh-seeded Maryland (19-13, 8-9) came out blazing, with freshman Haul Palsson spurring a 12-2 lead and the Terps turning back two Wolfpack rallies. That’s precisely the type of offensive fire and defensive resolve they hope to bring to Friday’s quarterfinal against Duke, the tournament’s No. 2 seed.
To a man, Maryland players said they’re determined to turn whatever shortcomings or disadvantages they’ve had this season into positives as they gird for the mental and physical challenge posed by fifth-ranked Duke (24-7, 13-3).
For starters, they intend to forget their second game against Duke this season, the lifeless one at Comcast Center Feb. 2, which ended with an 80-62 defeat. Instead, they plan to draw on the positives from the Jan. 9 game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where they led in the second half before falling, 71-64, holding the then-No. 1-ranked Blue Devils to 40.3 percent shooting.
“At Cameron, we went in there, and we were hyped,” said Tucker, who scored 14 in the loss. “We weren’t scared of anything. We wanted to compete. They beat us in the end, but we played great.”
Added sophomore center Jordan Williams, who scored a team-high 23 at Cameron: “We didn't care who they were or what their ranking was. We just came out and played aggressive. The second game we played flat the whole game. We took the first game and took them lightly. It's important for us for definitely to come out with the same fire we had in Durham and be ready for it.”
Asked if the Terps would be handicapped by fatigue Friday, playing a well-rested Devils squad 24 hours after N.C. State, junior Sean Mosley turned that into an advantage, too.
“We got the feel for the rims and the court [against N.C. State],” Mosley said. “Just to get a feel for the arena itself, I think that’s a big positive. We’re not coming our fresh [against Duke], but we’re coming out energized. Everybody’s going to be jacked up for tomorrow’s game.”
Said Maryland Coach Gary Williams, who hunkered down for a long night of game-planning: “We played [Duke] twice, so we have a pretty good idea what they do. Now we’ve got to find some things that we can do-- hopefully do some things defensively that will bother them. It’s like any other game to prepare for, except you have a short window.”