DURHAM, N.C. — In the building where so much familiar drama had unfolded, on the floor where so many similar battles had been fought, Maryland forward Charles Mitchell lay flat on his back, as if the weight of a rivalry’s history was pressing down on his burly chest. Of course it would end this way, nearly 90 years of passion stuffed into one evening. If the Maryland-Duke rivalry is indeed to be no more, if history and tradition are to be shed during the mad scramble of conference realignment, then what a way to go out.
Seconds earlier, Mitchell was dancing through the paint and lofting a baby hook, his go-to move. The shot would have ended the matchup in the best way possible for Maryland, with triumph in this claustrophobic cathedral. Instead, it spun off the rim, ricocheted off the backboard and hung on the front iron, as if the basketball was itself pondering how this chapter should close. With the Terrapins locking arms on the sideline, with Coach Mark Turgeon leaping in hope, with Cameron Indoor Stadium holding its breath, the shot bounced away in a 69-67 Blue Devils victory on Saturday night.
“I don’t know how Charles’s shot didn’t go in,” Turgeon said after the game, the final ACC regular season game between Maryland and the Blue Devils. “Call it the Duke gods. I don’t know what happened.”
The Terps will return to College Park still searching for a defining victory in this confounding season, but in the moment none of that mattered, because Saturday night was all about history. From the moment the doors opened, an hour and a half before tip-off, Maryland was shelled by reminders of what soon will be no more. Three students painted their bare chests to spell out “B-Y-E.” The Blue Devils’ mascot wore athletic tape stuck to his forehead, on it written the years Maryland spent as an ACC foe — 1953 to 2014 — next to the words, “So long Terps.”
But really, what college basketball fan could willingly bid farewell, especially after a new generation of players delivered another timeless ending? Duke freshman Jabari Parker, who surely will be among the top picks in June’s NBA draft should he declare, scored a game-high 23 points, including a thunderous dunk that gave his team the lead for good. Maryland guard Dez Wells, the North Carolina native who grew up a Duke fan watching Jay Williams and Juan Dixon battle it out, scored all 17 of his points in the second half after early foul trouble.
“Hopefully in 10 years, this will be on ESPN Classic and I’ll be talking to my children, my sister and my mom about how I picked up three fouls in like five minutes,” Wells said. “Hopefully I’ll be looking back laughing at it, but right now it hurts to lose. But it was fun. That was so much fun.”
As Saturday’s game grew closer, Turgeon tried to impress upon his players the magnitude of the finale. Duke wasn’t coming to Comcast Center this season. This was it.
“We played tonight for Maryland,” Turgeon said later. “We didn’t play it for ourselves. We played it for all former coaches, all former players, all former students.”
For 39 minutes 58.9 seconds, the Terps took everyone watching on an improbable thrill ride. Down six points at halftime, kept afloat by the low-post play of Mitchell (12 points), Wells began conjuring flashbacks to a more recent memory, when he scored 30 points during Maryland’s ACC quarterfinal upset of Duke last season. Soon, the Terps had their first lead at 54-52.
From there, it all made so much sense, the teams trading blows like prizefighters, no matter that Duke (20-5, 9-3) was ranked eighth and Maryland (14-12, 6-7) had barely made a blip on the national radar. It was tied at 62-62, then again at 64-64. And in that moment, everything that came before Saturday night, all 176 of those intensely fought games, was left behind. All those players, those legendary coaches, those matchups replayed on loop, none of those mattered. Here, in perhaps the final matchup between Maryland and Duke in the foreseeable future, was more than enough.
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