Maryland’s upset of Duke bolsters NCAA hopes, but work remains

February 17, 2013

The trash gathered in piles throughout the arena, papers and water bottles clumped together after a night of celebration. Boot prints still lingered on the Comcast Center’s floor, muddy impressions from when the Maryland students stormed the court for the second time in a month following Saturday’s wild victory over Duke. As a cleaning crew swept its way through the seats, a few workers began unrolling mats. A gymnastics meet would be held in 19 hours.

The revelry continued well into the night along Route 1. Fans basked in an upset that at once gave these starved supporters their biggest meal in years and put the Terrapins back on the national radar. But within Comcast Center, life moved on. Coach Mark Turgeon gave his team an early curfew. Maryland would enjoy the 83-81 upset, its first win over Duke in seven games, and then get back to work. Boston College awaits Tuesday.

Saturday’s result revived Maryland’s hopes for an at-large berth in the 68-team NCAA tournament, but with six regular season games to go — four of them on the road — the team’s status is far from certain. If anything, beating Duke pushed Maryland (18-7, 6-6 in the ACC) squarely onto the bubble.

The next hurdle is Boston College (11-14, 3-9), which has shown some signs of life in a one-point home loss to Duke and a near-upset at Florida State.

After that, Maryland faces Clemson, has road trips to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, a home date with North Carolina and the season finale at Virginia.

The Post’s Dan Steinberg, Mike Wise, LaVar Arrington and Jonathan Forsythe offer their bold predictions for Maryland’s game against Duke at Comcast Center. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Nothing, especially not during a wildly unpredictable college basketball season, is set in stone. Maryland can bolster its NCAA tournament chances with a strong finish. It can also see them disappear in a flash, just as quickly as they were rejuvenated Saturday night.

“We felt like we needed a big win and this was it,” said freshman guard Seth Allen, who hit the winning free throws with two seconds left. “Going into the locker room after the win, everybody was just relieved. This whole week, our theme was commitment to the team, just be committed. As you can tell, everybody played their role and everybody was committed.”

Bracket analysts remain bearish on the Terps. Both ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com had the Terps listed on their “First four out.” Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated wrote that, “Home wins over the Blue Devils and N.C. State look nice, but Maryland’s poor nonconference schedule likely means more than that will be required a month from now for admission.”

The final third of their ACC schedule should dictate whether beating Duke will serve as a foundation block for their résumé, or simply a momentous blip in an otherwise disappointing, NIT-bound season. Even in the upset, the Terps remained their enigmatic selves. They committed a season-high 26 turnovers yet shot 60 percent from the field and outrebounded the Blue Devils by 20.

“I think it means a lot,” Allen said. “Just to be able to beat a team of that caliber, it shows just how good we are and how good we can be. We had 26 turnovers and beat them. Imagine if we slimmed down the turnovers, how different a game it would have been.”

An 11-point loss to Virginia at home last Sunday thrust Maryland into desperation mode. But the Terps looked as relaxed as ever on national television against their rivals. They sank clutch free throws and defended well down the stretch. Allen even cracked a smile before he clinched the game. Once their postgame joy subsided, however, it was full steam ahead.

“I’m not even going to mention the four-letter word out there, because we’re so far from it,” Turgeon said, referring to NCAA. “Got four of six [left] on the road. . . . We took a lot of steps in the right direction tonight. None of that other stuff matters. We’re going to enjoy tonight. We’ve got a Boston College team that’s very good, and we have to go up there and play better than we did against them at home.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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