The Washington Post

Maryland basketball vs. Duke: Terrapins face a steep challenge against No. 8 Blue Devils

Maryland’s basketball players and fans will have no shortage of reasons to get fired up for Wednesday’s home game against Duke, the team the Terrapins most love to hate.

But with the services of Alex Len in question after the 7-foot-1 center sprained his ankle in Saturday’s loss at Temple, it’s unclear whether Maryland (12-6, 2-2 ACC) will have the necessary firepower to challenge the eighth-ranked Blue Devils.

Len was unable to practice Monday; the soreness in his ankle was too severe. Coach Mark Turgeon said Tuesday that he didn’t know how much Len would be able to play against Duke.

“Obviously we need him; we need his length,” Turgeon said. “I’d hate for him to miss this game. Every time our young kids can play in a big game, it helps us.”

Len (7.8 points, six rebounds per game) has been largely silenced on offense recently, reluctant to shoot and too often relegated to the bench with foul trouble.

But for Maryland to have any shot at outscoring Duke (16-3, 4-1) — which leads the ACC in field goal percentage (49.2) and three-point field goal percentage (40.9) and averages 80.9 points — the Terrapins will need multiple big bodies to protect the rim.

Duke has won nine of its last 10 against Maryland and three of its last four at Comcast Center.

The Terrapins’ lone recent victory, in 2010, claimed a share of the ACC regular season title and spurred a court-storming frenzy.

In ceremonies before Wednesday’s 9 p.m. tip-off, the coach who delivered that victory, Gary Williams, will have the Comcast Center court named in his honor.

Maryland’s first sell-out crowd of the season will be on hand to cheer Williams, taunt Duke and do whatever it can to avenge the three defeats the Terrapins suffered against Duke.

Both teams are coming off defeats, with Duke falling to Florida State, 76-73, on a buzzer-beater at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.

Maryland still is seeking a signature victory, and senior Sean Mosley knows well what an upset of Duke would do for the Terrapins’ national profile, as well as their faith in one another.

“It would be huge for us,” Mosley said. “It would be great motivation and a great win the ACC and give us some confidence going into playing other teams in the ACC. We know it’s not going to be an easy game.”

Duke hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2009.

Len’s injury is hardly Maryland’s only concern entering Wednesday’s game.

Despite Turgeon’s efforts to the contrary, the Terrapins’ offense continues to orbit around one player — sophomore Terrell Stoglin (21.2 points per game). Eighteen games into the season, a consistent secondary scorer has yet to emerge, with Mosley and junior forward James Padgett alternating in the role.

More alarming is Maryland’s tendency to take rash shots and turn over the ball in the waning minutes, particularly in close games. That’s why Turgeon made “value the ball” his point of emphasis heading into the clash with Duke. It’s a two-pronged imperative: Don’t turn over the ball and don’t take foolish shots.

As Mosley, as Terrapins’ lone fourth-year player, knows better than any player: Duke feeds off opponents’ poor judgment.

“Duke capitalizes a lot off everything — turnovers, missed layups,” Mosley said. “It can affect us on the other end of the court, so we have to value the basketball.”

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday that he was aware of the pageantry that will precede Wednesday’s game and has already congratulated Williams, whom he considers a friend despite their teams’ heated rivalry. But he dismissed a suggestion that the Terrapins' fans would be any more riled up at tip-off because of it.

“They have a great crowd all the time when they’re playing us,” Krzyzewski said of Maryland’s fans. “Whether Gary is having the court named after him before the game or not, I would expect them to give us their best shot.”

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. She has also covered seven Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.
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