The cellphone cameras flashed as the students bounced at midcourt, thumping in unison amid a sea of jubilation. Alex Len emerged dirty and sweaty, panting after the best game of his college career. Minutes after playing the hero, Seth Allen was led toward the exit by a member of Maryland’s media relations staff. Testudo, the team’s mascot, crowd-surfed. And somewhere, at a nearby launch pad, helicopters began whirring their blades, taking off over College Park to survey the chaotic aftermath along Route 1, where fans and players celebrated into the brisk night.
The same smile Allen flashed at the free throw line just before he sank the decisive free throws in Maryland’s 83-81 win over second-ranked Duke on Saturday night was mirrored throughout Comcast Center, a sellout crowd joining in the celebration, just like they did exactly one month ago when Len’s buzzer-beating tip-in dropped North Carolina State.
But this was bigger. Way bigger. The Terrapins snapped a six-game losing streak to their bitter rivals in what had been a lopsided matchup in recent years, and it may have be the final time Duke comes to College Park. What a way to bid farewell.
“I told the players before the game: ‘There’s a lot of pride in Maryland basketball. A lot of pride,’ ” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “And we didn’t perform well last week. For them to show up in droves, and I know it was Duke. Students lining up, coming early. There’s a lot of pride. There’s also a lot of passion. We talked about pride and passion, playing with those two things tonight. For us, and for our fans.
“Never quit, never had a doubt we were going to win the game. Just really proud of my kids. I really worked them hard this week. Really hard. Challenged them in a lot of different areas. I told them before the game: ‘We don’t have to be extraordinary. We just have to play to our level.’ We weren’t extraordinary all the time, but we played to our level.”
Maryland’s season-high 26 turnovers will get buried in the retelling, alongside The Terrapins 60 percent shooting and its 34 free throw attempts. Somewhere in that pile also rests Len’s 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting and 7 of 8 free throws, beside Mason Plumlee’s disappearing act (four points, three rebounds in 33 minutes), Seth Curry’s hot shooting (game-high 25 points), Dez Wells’s characteristically Dez Wells-ian stat line (nine points, seven rebounds, seven assists, six turnovers) and Allen’s 16 points, all of which came in the second half. .
For now, the Terps will revel in their win, which thrust them back into the NCAA tournament discussion. Their chances were fading, put on life support by Sunday’s loss to Virginia. Beating Duke, however, should resuscitate them.
“We felt like we needed a big win and this was it,” said Allen, who overcame a career-high eight turnovers down the stretch. “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.
Perhaps everyone burned their excitement during the postgame scrum and in the locker room. The Terps who spoke with reporters insisted on looking ahead to Tuesday’s matchup at Boston College, which is now equally as important to Maryland’s postseason chances. But the groundwork has been laid, a potential breakthrough moment glistening through the masses of red, white, yellow and black that flooded the parquet.
“We’ll see,” Turgeon said. “It’s a great win. I challenged Alex about being Mason Plumlee’s little brother. He treats you like a little brother. I said, I’m tired of being a little brother since I’ve been here. It’s time for us to step up, act like we’re one of the big guys on the block. Obviously we’re not. We’re only 6-6 in the league. But we beat a really good team tonight. Is it a breakthrough win? We’ll see.”