This week’s annual Big Ten/ACC challenge could have been a fitting farewell, but in the eight seasons since Maryland left the ACC, the Terps and Blue Devils have never been matched up.
“That’s not going to happen again, because we’re not going to schedule them,” Coach K said in 2013. “ … And I’m sorry that Maryland’s not in the ACC. … I wish they were still with us.”
Krzyzewski had every right to be upset by Maryland’s departure. Plenty of Maryland fans still have never gotten over it. But while the Maryland administration deserves the bulk of the blame for dumping Duke and the rest of the ACC after more than a half-century together, eight years is a long time to hold a grudge.
So, on Tuesday, Duke traveled to Ohio State and on Wednesday, Maryland will host Virginia Tech. And all that remains of the Maryland-Duke rivalry is the memories.
I was a student at the University of Maryland at the turn of the century when everything in that rivalry changed. From 1997 until 2003, Maryland and Duke met 17 times as ranked opponents. Duke dominated.
Until the night of Feb. 9, 2000.
A 150-pound sophomore guard named Juan Dixon torched the Blue Devils, stunning the Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd with 31 points and ending Duke’s 46-game home winning streak and 31-game conference winning streak. I’ll never forget the scene back on campus late that Wednesday night.
As soon as the final buzzer sounded, thousands of delirious Maryland students stormed the streets of College Park, many grabbing couches from random houses and setting them ablaze. Fans tore down a goal post from the football stadium, dragged it a mile across campus and threw it into a raging fire on Frat Row. Some young women in the crowd pulled their tops off, and some of my fraternity brothers danced naked around the fires, while helicopters blared overhead and police shut down Route 1 … all for a regular season win.
The scene was like something out of a movie. It was so unexpected, but beating Duke that night made us momentarily lose our minds. The Diamondback, Maryland’s student paper, summarized the pandemonium the next day with a one-word headline: “Chaos.” And from that point forward, Maryland decided a rivalry was born.
As Gary Williams’s Maryland program continued its ascent into national contender, the stakes of the games got even bigger — and more bedlam on the streets of College Park often ensued. The following season, Maryland and Duke played four times, each an instant classic. I was there for all of it: The good, the bad, the ugly. And yes, the unspeakable.
From the “Miracle Minute” debacle, when Maryland blew a 10-point lead at home with 54 seconds left; to the Terps’ stunning “encore” win in Durham, which ruined Duke hero Shane Battier’s senior night; to Duke’s buzzer beater in the ACC tourney championship; all the way to the 2001 Final Four, a surreal and unfathomable night that saw Maryland blow a 22-point lead on the biggest stage to the eventual national champion Blue Devils. Maryland and Duke gamedays had quickly become the most anticipated and unpredictable days in my young life.
You never knew what might happen. The moment that perhaps stands out the most occurred the next year in 2002. I’ve never heard an arena more deafening than Cole Field House when Steve Blake picked Duke point guard Jay Williams’s pocket and beat the national player of the year to the basket as the first half expired. The crowd erupted so loudly it was like a bomb went off. Gary and the Terps won it all that year, and I’ve never doubted that those battles with Coach K’s teams helped prepare Maryland for their fateful postseason runs.
One of my favorite games in the series occurred in 2010 on Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez’s senior night. That game was also our last against Blue Devils star Jon Scheyer, now Duke’s coach-in-waiting. In what would turn out to be the signature shot of his career, Vasquez threw up an impossible running floater with 40 seconds left that pinballed in and out, bouncing high above the rim before falling safely in the net to seal the win. The lesson I learned that night: You’re never too old to rush the court.
No one else this century battled Duke like the Terps. As Maryland’s program receded from national prominence and the rivalry began to fade, the Terps continued to knock Duke off its high horse. Even Mark Turgeon’s teams held their own against Coach K after Williams retired, taking two of the final three in the series. In fact, from that Dixon-led upset in 2000 until the time Maryland left the ACC in 2014, no team in the country beat Coach K and Duke more times than the Terps (12).
To be sure, Duke fans have long denied the significance of any of this and many still laugh at our “obsession” with them. At some point, their students even began chanting “Not our rival” during Maryland games — a point ESPN hoops analyst and Duke basketball alum Jay Bilas noted actually confirmed Maryland’s status as bitter rivals. But even if we didn’t mean as much to them as they did to us, that’s okay. We never cared. Our special relationship with Coach K’s teams and the level of emotion they brought out in our players, coaches and fans was unlike anything else I’ve seen in sports.
Coach K said it best: “You felt not just a team that you were playing against; you felt that community, that Maryland spirit, the passion to win and to beat us,” he said. “And we’ve won some there, we’ve lost, but there’s never been a game there that was dull.”
It’s hard to accept that it’s over. It’s been nearly a decade since the relationship ended, but sometimes Maryland and Duke feels more like a Taylor Swift breakup song than a once-glorious sports rivalry.
Even if we are never, ever, getting back together, I’m grateful for the times we had with Coach K and will genuinely miss having him around college hoops. But I’ll always be sad Maryland and Duke came to an end and wish things had worked out differently. Krzyzewski’s 42-year career at Duke wouldn’t have been the same without the Maryland chapters.
It’s possible the two teams could face off again after Coach K retires, but it won’t be the same without him. In a perfect world, the NCAA men’s basketball committee might see fit to reunite us in March for a proper farewell (if Maryland gets its act together on the court this season). There would be no more fitting end to the Maryland-Duke story than sending our old nemesis into early retirement. A guy can dream.
We need villains in sports. In College Park, no one played that role better than K.
Rudy Gersten is a University of Maryland alumnus.