There was no shortage of spirit at Comcast Center on Wednesday night, when Maryland faced No. 8 Duke in front of a capacity crowd of 17,950 that was whipped into a frenzy by an emotional pregame ceremony honoring former coach Gary Williams.
While Scott Block couldn’t do anything about the outcome (Maryland lost, 74-61), the sophomore information-systems major was doing his best to ensure that his beloved Terrapins enjoy the same fervent support at every home game this season.
Combining his passions for technology and Maryland basketball, Block, 19, recently launched www.BetterTerps.com, a Web site urging his fellow students to turn out for all home games, not just the marquee matchups against Duke and North Carolina.
“I definitely think if we had the kind of atmosphere we did for Duke at all the games, it would help our team out,” Block said in a telephone interview.
Attendance at Maryland home games has declined every season since 2007-08, when the Terrapins averaged 17,950 fans. This season, Maryland has drawn an average of 12,278 fans to its 12 homes games and didn’t sell out Comcast Center until Duke came to town.
Wednesday’s crowd had a palpable effect on the Terrapins’ performance.
“For sure, it helped us a lot,” said sophomore guard Pe’Shon Howard. “The adrenaline and the energy picked up. To have the support of [Maryland fans] being so loud, it kind of messed up [Duke’s] communication.”
Turgeon expressed gratitude, as well, before launching into his postgame analysis.
“The crowd was off the charts,” said Turgeon, who came to Maryland from Texas A&M, where the basketball team was perennially overshadowed by the football squad. “It was fantastic to see. It was the first time I’ve seen it. I’d like to see it more often.”
Saturday will be a good test, with Virginia Tech (12-8, 1-4 ACC) due at Comcast for a 2:30 p.m. tip-off.
The Hokies swept both games against Maryland last season but arrive having lost five of their last six. The Terrapins (12-7, 2-3) would love nothing more than to avenge those defeats and, in doing so, snap their own three-game losing streak and claw back to .500 in conference play.
Turgeon noted several reasons why his squad should draw confidence from the loss to Duke.
Maryland held the Blue Devils below their scoring average of 80.5 points. The Terrapins effectively reined in shooting ace Austin Rivers, whose 10 points were well shy of the 19 he had averaged in Duke’s two previous outings. And they limited the Blue Devils — a team averaging nearly eight three-pointers per game — to only three of 16 on three-pointers.
What Maryland couldn’t handle, however, was a terrific performance by Duke forward Mason Plumlee, who had a game-high 23 points.
Maryland also hurt itself on the free throw line; it made just 11 of 21 attempts (52.4 percent). Foul shooting has been a weakness of the team since the season opened, and Turgeon has responded by alternately harping on it and letting players work on it on their own.
“Obviously it’s not something we do well,” said Turgeon, whose team ranks 10th in the 12-team ACC in free throw percentage in conference games at 65.1 percent, with only Georgia Tech (61.6 percent) and Boston College (61.5) more hapless. “We’re improving in a lot of areas, but we’re not improving in that one enough.”
As for the Terrapins’ encouraging first half against Duke — Maryland built an eight-point lead seven minutes into the game — Turgeon said part of the credit belonged to the fans who showed up in such force.
“The crowd helped in a number of ways for us,” Turgeon said. “I thought our kids deserved it. They’ve gotten better. We haven’t really embarrassed ourselves, and we tried to do things the right way.”
Terrapins note: Turgeon said that assistant coach Dalonte Hill will return to the bench for Saturday’s game after serving a two-game university-imposed suspension following his arrest earlier this month for driving under the influence.