The weary travelers stepped off the bus and into Comcast Center on Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours removed from their second loss in the past week, which also happened to be their second loss this entire season. A brutal two-game road swing for the Syracuse men’s basketball team began in a blaze of cursing and heartbreak at Duke this weekend and the Orange were silent and focused as they marched through the site of the next battle.
Many Maryland players were aware of what had happened Saturday night, when forward C.J. Fair appeared to have tied the game at 60 with a driving layup, only to have it taken away with a charge call that Coach Jim Boeheim later said was “the worst call of the year.” The legendary coach’s reaction in the moment, which included six iterations of a particularly profane phrase directed at the officials, earned him an ejection, which officially ended any chance Syracuse had for a last-minute miracle.
“I thought it was pretty crazy, seeing Jim Boeheim do that,” Maryland forward Jake Layman said. “But it just lets us know that he’s going to come in here with a lot of energy this game and they’re going to be looking to get the win.”
This was the pervasive sentiment among the Terrapins after practice ended and they traded places on the court with Syracuse. They are expecting an ornery group, one that has seen its 25-game winning streak and undefeated season disappear in overtime against Boston College at the Carrier Dome before the unfavorable whistle salted the wound at Duke.
The Orange had escaped several times in February, each moment either reinforcing the idea that their first loss was inevitable or that they simply couldn’t lose no matter the circumstance. They squeaked by Pittsburgh on the road (58-56), North Carolina State at home (56-55) and the Blue Devils in overtime on Feb. 1 (91-89). But now, knocked out of first place in the ACC and presumably from the top spot in the national polls, Syracuse arrived in College Park with redemption on its mind.
“I think they’re coming with a lot of vengeance,” guard Nick Faust said. “They know we can possibly get the victory just because of the type of team we are. They’re definitely going to come with a full head of steam, just because they lost two in a row.”
On the opposite side sits Maryland, which hasn’t played since last Tuesday. After beating Wake Forest, Coach Mark Turgeon gave his players the next day off. Then they practiced once and took another day off. Long rest hasn’t been favorable to the Terps – since December, they are 1-5 in games following breaks of at least four days – so Turgeon wanted the players to relax.
“I’m sure we’re going to be pretty juiced up, but we’ll see if we’re rusty,” Turgeon said. “I do think mentally, we were pretty mentally down after that Duke game and it showed. But I think we’re fresh again. I think our legs are fresh. I think we’ve practiced enough to stay in good shape. I think we’re mentally sharp moving forward.”
After all, they will be playing before a sellout crowd and a student section planning to revamp the “Flash Mob” displayed against Duke last season, desperate for a signature victory with the regular season ticking away.
“We know that if we win this game it’ll be big for us,” Layman said. “With the way we’re playing right now, we have all of the confidence in the world to beat anybody. We know it’s going to be a challenge but we’ll be ready to go.”
Both teams have long breaks after Monday night – Maryland doesn’t play until March 2 and Syracuse visits Virginia on March 1 – and the Terps expect every bit of emotion to be spilled at tip-off, particularly from an Orange team that flew north ticked over the outcome at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“It’s not like they’ve gotten blown out,” Turgeon said. “Probably a little more determined. Probably a little more relaxed now that they’ve got that 25-0 … there’s a lot of pressure when you’re undefeated. I thought they played better last night than they’ve played the past couple games. Pretty determined team coming in. They’re still right there for the league championship.”