On a night that was already memorable with the naming of the court in Comcast, the home stand against Duke brought Maryland fans out by the thousands. I was very impressed with the amount of fans in the arena well before the start of the game, after being greatly disappointed with every game prior to tonight. Maryland has been a decent team in its first year with Mar Turgeon as head coach, but this game would serve as a litmus test for the momentum going into the heart of the ACC season.
A few minutes prior to the start of the game, the unveiling of the long-awaited naming of the court had arrived. After 22 seasons, 3 ACC regular season titles, 1 ACC tournament title and 1 National Championship, Gary Williams was officially honored with his signature permanently added in the Comcast Arena. With the classic fist pump and a short appreciation speech, Gary thanked the fans and the former players for their dedication to the school and the basketball program. It was a great way to transition into the game.
With the traditional method of pregame ceremonies, Maryland fans were booming with energy. Comcast provided newspapers on all of the seats to serve as the traditional, unified intimidation tradition against the opposing team. While the “sucks” chant was one of the most mild of the students’ attempts at intimidation, the energy was electric. Student also got to do their “hey, you suck” chant prior to tip off. There was no telling how the game was going to play out, but there was no denying it was going to be an exciting evening.
Maryland won the tip and started the game fairly even with the Blue Devils. It was clear that the Duke bigs were going to be a problem for the slightly smaller forwards and inexperienced center for the Terps. Surprisingly, Maryland went out with an 18-10 lead nearly halfway through the first half. The arena was truly rockin’ heavy. Even though the dance that is basketball always allows at least moments for the other team to shine, it was only a matter of time when Duke was going to turn it on. To the surprise of the fans, and even the players and coaches, the turnaround actually began when the refs decided they would determine the outcome of the game.
I have been to a number of games where there are bad calls, but the more talented team of the day wins as they should. I have even been to some games where the calls start to angry me because of the impression of favoritism for one team. I was not just angry but furious with the extremely lopsided calls happening one after the next and for imbalanced reasons. Alex Len did not start, but somehow pulled off two fouls in less than a minute, one of which occurred when he went for a block and was called for simply being in the vicinity of getting close to touching Ryan Kelly. Near the end of the half, the refs called two questionable back-to-back fouls on Pe’Shon Howard and Ashton Pankey. It appeared that the refs not only were calling fouls against Maryland that were committed by Duke players, but they were even calling fouls when there was absolutely no contact. There were also three offensive charge calls that occurred when the Duke defender was clearly committing a moving blocking foul.
On the other side, there were a number of occasions when Duke committed clear holding, over-the-back and slapping fouls that ended in being no calls. In the first half, Terrell Stoglin missed a jumper, Duke committed an over-the-back penalty (no call), Ashton Pankey got the rebound, Duke fouled on the attempted shot (no foul) and then Duke committed a push in an attempt to get the rebound (no call). Ryan Kelly was credited a block, rather than the clear foul call.
Between the blatant no calls in favor of Duke and the pathetic calls against Maryland, it was surprising that the Terps hung in there throughout the first half. When the buzz sounded, Maryland was only down by 3 and made the final score at the halfway mark. The halftime games came and went, but the producers sent out Gymkana to serve as a great break from the action.
The first couple minutes of the second half looked close, but Maryland found a way to pull back out in front after a mid-range jumper from Stoglin and a mid-range jumper by Alex Len (which happened to be his only 2 points). That would be the last time Maryland held a lead. Throughout the season, Maryland has become known as a slow-out-of-the-gate second half team. This was particularly true when they dropped a double-digit lead to Cornell and had to fight back from a tied game and a 10-minute drought in points. Mason Plumlee dominated the remainder of the second half with assistance from Austin River, Ryan Kelly and Tyler Thornton. Sean Mosley had a mediocre game with only 6 points and fouled out with over a minute left to play. the Blue Devils finished their resurgence and recovered from their huge home loss to Florida State less than a week ago.
The game featured moments of cooperation and brilliance, but Maryland fell back to the problems that have plagued them all season. After starting the game shooting perfectly from the stripe, it looked like Terrell Stoglin could not buy a free throw. Alex Len’s two early fouls were the only ones he suffered but his confidence was shot from the very beginning. Ashton Pankey, Alex Len and Sean Mosley suffered from a seemingly biased referee group, which led to a number of poor decisions. The cohesiveness at the beginning of the game popped up for short bursts later on, allowing the Terps to feel like they were still in it, but it could never be sustained for long.
I love my Terps, but we could have played better. We could have seen better sportsmanship from the fans. And we certainly cannot let this steal all of the spirit out of us. My message to the Maryland fans is let the loss simmer and move on. There is still another couple months of college basketball, the women’s team is 7th in the nation and you never know where we will be by March.