GREENSBORO, N.C. — Here’s the game story from last night’s stunning 83-74 upset over Duke and the accompanying postgame blog. The Terps tip off against third-seeded North Carolina around 3 p.m. today. Miami will take on North Carolina State in the early game, beginning at 1.
They had no business being here, leading the entire game against the nation’s second-ranked team. After all, who even challenges Duke when Ryan Kelly starts? In North Carolina, nonetheless. Sure, the Blue Devils were embarrassed at Greensboro Coliseum last March, losing to 15th-seed Lehigh, but Maryland was supposed to be a minor speed bump on their way to bigger goals.
Instead, Duke is one-and-done at the ACC tournament. And the Terps? These baffling and inconsistent Terps? They’re suddenly playing their best basketball at the best possible time.
“We came here two years ago and six guys, first day on the job, I didn’t envision this to be honest at the end of my second year,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. He often makes mention of the half-dozen scholarship players who remained once Turgeon arrived in College Park. He’s quick to remind reporters that “this has nothing to do with a rivalry or not a rivalry, it’s about building a program, okay?”
Funny how the same words take on different meaning. Last week, as the Terps wallowed in a season-ending collapse at Virginia, Turgeon’s talk about “building a program” drew, at best, mixed reactions. It seemed to mean “wait until next year,” because who could have predicted that Maryland would reel off two wins in two days on a neutral floor? Now, as Turgeon told his grinning players in the locker room, “This is a great win for our program, but it doesn’t get us where we want to be guys. Two more does.”
>> Maryland played small almost exclusively against Duke, switching everything around the perimeter and limiting the Blue Devils to 16-percent shooting on three-pointers. For the second time all season (the other was at Virginia), Pe’Shon Howard, Jake Layman, Nick Faust, Dez Wells and Alex Len started together. Now the Terps get North Carolina, fresh off an impressive 83-62 drubbing of Florida State. The Tar Heels have beaten Maryland twice this season by a combined 31 points, creating matchup nightmares along the perimeter with physical guards P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock.
But Hairston cut his hand against the Seminoles, a nasty slice that, according to Coach Roy Williams, required eight stitches. “We are extremely concerned right now,” Williams said postgame, unsure of Hairston’s status against Maryland. If he can’t play, the Tar Heels will have all of 15 hours to adjust their once-dominant four-guard lineup. A UNC spokesman told the News & Observer’s Andrew Carter that Hairston will likely try to play tomorrow and his status should be a game-time decision.
>> The last time Maryland beat Duke on Feb. 16 at Comcast Center, Howard was at home, serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. He wasn’t allowed on the bench, so instead he watched the game on television. “I couldn’t sit down,” he said. “It was crazy. I’ve never been a fan before. I really couldn’t sit down at all.”
Upon returning to the locker room the next morning, the jubilation still dissipating in College Park, Howard told his teammates, “Next time we have a big celebration, I’ll be there.” He was actually referring to the ACC championship game, but topping Duke again will suffice for now.
Howard’s jump shot was way off Friday night. He missed badly on three three-point attempts. But he quit shooting down the stretch and locked down on defense, finishing with five assists and no turnovers, his first mistake-free game with at least 20 minutes played since North Carolina State. He logged a season-high 34 minutes, another baby step in his postseason self-reinvention.
“That’s what Coach said: ‘Guard, five assists, no turnovers,’ ” Howard said. “I remember last game, when we played Duke, I had one turnover. If I can handle it at Cameron I can handle it here. I know I got Nick and Jake some big shots. I just wanted to run the team, make sure we guarded and made big shots.”
>> Shaq Cleare only played eight minutes, but he did another tremendous job bodying up Mason Plumlee. Plumlee (19 points) apparently talked a little trash once Cleare got on the floor. The freshman didn’t take too kindly to that.
“He ain’t going to move me,” Cleare said. “I don’t know if it’s our last time meeting, but I hope it wasn’t. I don’t like people to bully me. I don’t like people to take advantage of me. I’ve got pride in that. I refuse for him to back me down.”
Cleare has often been the odd man out in Turgeon’s rotation, benched altogether at Virginia, but actually got into the offensive flow as well, something he hadn’t done in some time. He made a nifty right hook and drilled a mid-range jumper from the right baseline.
“You just have to get touches to the ball,” Cleare said. “Once you get in the flow of the game, baskets won’t be that hard. I can get a lot of shots off. I just have to make them.”
>> Love dramatic music and slow-motion highlights? This is the video for you.