GREENSBORO, N.C. – When the 61 years had finally ended, dunked into oblivion by Boris Bojanovsky, there was no time amid the ruckus for the requisite chants of “A-C-C, A-C-C.” Some invigorated fans, speckled among the crowd behind the scorer’s table, tried singing a goodbye song, but it was barely audible. Instead, the Maryland men’s basketball team filed away from Greensboro Coliseum with a whimper, gone to the Big Ten.
Over the past several weeks, as the inevitable conclusion drew near, Coach Mark Turgeon had begun to deemphasize the moment’s magnitude, and he had a point. The Terrapins have played under the cloud of their pending departure for nearly 18 months now, since the move was first announced in November 2012. There were emotional checkpoints along the route, like the final ACC home game against Virginia or the final meeting with Duke. But it just seemed to fizzle away, much like the path of Maryland’s swan-song season to date.
“We were really invested, we knew what the ACC meant to our fans, and we just weren’t good enough to get the win today,” Turgeon said after Bojanovsky’s buzzer-beater gave Florida State a 67-65 win Thursday afternoon. “But it wasn’t like we weren’t trying. We competed. We knew what it meant to our people. We’re going to miss it. It’s a great league, great coaches. We’re going to miss Greensboro. It was a great tournament, well run. We’re going to miss that part of it. But the good thing is we’re going to another great league, great coaches, great tournament.”
Even if the Terps had won and advanced into the quarterfinals to face top-seeded Virginia, most of the players seemed to gloss over the idea of bidding the league farewell. Turgeon has repeatedly said he came to Maryland to participate in long-standing series against the Blue Devils and North Carolina, implying that the prospect of forming new rivalries with the likes of Rutgers and Penn State didn’t sit well with him. Guard Dez Wells, a genuine historian of the game who grew up in nearby Raleigh watching ACC games, thanked the conference but admitted that history was dwarfed by the feeling of another defeat that came down to the last possession.
“Each game, each loss hurts the same,” Wells said. “The conference doesn’t matter to me. Basketball is basketball. It’s high-major basketball. The conference doesn’t really matter. Everybody’s elite at this level. All due respect to the ACC and the Big Ten, the conference doesn’t matter. We just want to play every game. Losing hurts. The way that we lost hurts so bad.”
Walking through the hallway outside the locker rooms, Maryland Athletics Director Kevin Anderson expressed optimism for a basketball program that will soon miss its fourth straight NCAA tournament and will enter a conference that features four teams in the Associated Press top 25 and five teams rated in the top 20 by analyst Ken Pomeroy.
“I have the utmost … and am encouraged by Mark and what he’s doing with this program, bringing in some great recruits and so we have a lot of look forward to,” Anderson said. “It was bittersweet. I’ve only been here three years. Talking to fans and supporters I know how much this has meant to them. So it was something that we’ll embrace. We embraced it now. We’re moving to a new day, to a new conference, which is as strong, if not stronger. The competition is going to be as strong, if not stronger. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The next few months will bring a house-cleansing of sorts, both in College Park and Greensboro. Maryland images will be removed from ACC banners and Big Ten logos will be added around buildings on campus. But for Anderson, when asked whether the Thursday’s end felt like Maryland’s tenure in the ACC was truly over, he implied that the current conference – with Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Syracuse all having entered this season – ensured the transition had already begun.
“If we were playing each and every one of these teams every year, I think it probably would feel different,” Anderson said. “Now that the conference is different, scheduling is different, it’s not the same.”