Those thoughts came to a crashing halt when the players heard their coach’s voice cutting through the cheers and the music coming from the Maryland band.
“Stop!” Mark Turgeon yelled, racing onto the court before he had even walked to midcourt for the ritual handshake with Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Not now — not yet!” He had his palms down and was gesturing vehemently in the direction of the floor demanding calm amid the din around him.
The players stopped instantly. They seemed to understand that in the context of March, a win over Duke in the ACC tournament quarterfinals is all well and good, but the job was far from done. The Terrapins understood that they needed at least one more victory — possibly two — to get where they wanted to be Sunday night: on the board as part of the NCAA tournament bracket.
“I didn’t really envision this sort of win at the end of my second year,” Turgeon said, not long after accepting Krzyzewski’s pat on the chest as they shook hands. “They missed some shots for us but I thought my guys played great — especially on defense. To get a win like this you have to be good and you have to be lucky, too. Tonight we had both.”
He smiled. “The only thing I know for sure about this win is that it helps me with my fans.”
No doubt it will. No doubt it will take away a little bit of the sting on Sunday night, when Maryland will almost certainly be on the outside looking in at the 68-team NCAA field for the third straight season and for the sixth time in nine years. Everyone in the Maryland locker room on Friday said they understood that there was still work to do on Saturday against North Carolina and perhaps even on Sunday.
Even so, the Terrapins came out, as Turgeon put it, “dead” against the Tar Heels. They were quickly down 12 and spent the entire game trying to get even. Against Duke they never trailed. Against North Carolina they led once: at 2-0.
To their credit, they didn’t give up and even had a chance to tie in the final seconds before Logan Aronhalt’s rushed NBA-length three-point attempt failed to draw iron with Maryland trailing, 79-76. Hanging in when a blowout is possible is admirable — but it is also to be expected at this time of year.
“Sometimes when a team is playing to survive, it can play tight,” Krzyzewski said on Friday. “And sometimes it picks up its game to another level.”
Maryland did both: It played its best game of the season Friday; it played tight on Saturday before digging in to try to rally against a team that had hammered the Terrapins twice during the regular season.
There was certainly no shame in the loss, but losing was a shame because back-to-back victories over Duke and North Carolina might have been enough to earn Maryland at least a trip to Dayton, Ohio, for the so-called “First Four.”