Terps-Blue Devils: 'This One's Different'

Dez Wells

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland takes on No. 8 Duke Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. in a nationally televised game. It is likely the final meeting between the two ACC rivals.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Perhaps no one is more qualified to speak on the Maryland-Duke rivalry than the man who made it a national phenomenon, Juan Dixon. Yes, the former Terps' great had his share of moments and memories against the Blue Devils, from helping UMD beat Duke back-to-back seasons in Cameron Indoor Stadium -- including an 11-of-20, five-steal performance in 2001 -- to the "56 seconds" Duke comeback, to the 2001 Final Four showdown.

Now, a dozen years after playing in his last Duke-Maryland match, Dixon will be coaching in his first, which could just be the final meeting between the two schools as the Terps foray into the Big Ten.

"Intense basketball games, two great coaches preparing their teams extremely well, two great teams going at it for 40 minutes," Dixon said Feb. 14, the eve of Maryland's 6 p.m. ESPN-televised game in Cameron. "I have a lot of memories and am very fortunate to be part of those classic games in the past -- and hopefully we'll have another one [Feb. 15]."

The final Duke-Maryland game may not have the same buzz that it did in 2001 and 2002, what with UMD (14-11, 6-6 ACC) not having the season it wanted, but don't tell that to the current crop. Just a couple weeks ago Dixon was watching the Terps-Devils Final Four match on his laptop when junior Dez Wells sat down to take in the action as well.

"The [current UMD players] know the rivalry, they know what it's been like through the years, and they understand what it's all about," Dixon said. "They know how important this is. And they're playing one of the top teams in the country, and it's an opportunity to get a big win, so they want to take advantage of it."

Wells, who leads the team at 15 points per game this season, is a Carolina native who grew up a Duke (19-5, 8-3) fan. Although he said he's approaching this final meeting like any other game, Wells appreciates the significance of it. In fact, when he sat down with Dixon, that wasn't the first time he'd watched an old Duke-UMD meeting.

"I've watched them like 100 times. They were really competitive games, but Duke didn't lose too many times when I was growing up (laughs)," Wells said. "I remember when Jason Williams [helped] Duke score 10 points in 56 seconds and beat Maryland in overtime -- I remember that one… Juan, he took a lot of wild shots, but that's just how [Maryland] played; they did things Coach [Gary] Williams let them do, and he let them be free.

"But the times [Maryland] did win, me and my mom were pretty upset. It's kind of funny the tables are turned now."

Wells may have been a Devils fan, but he obviously didn't let it affect his play last year. After all, he helped his new favorite team down Duke twice in one season. That said, the Terps also lost by 20 when they last played in Durham, N.C., Jan. 26, 2013.

Not that UMD is rankled about playing in front of the Crazies again.

"The atmosphere is different than other arenas…Duke has great fans and they … have a lot of fun, and they enjoy the game," Dixon said. "But I've never been intimidated once playing down at Duke, and I don't think these guys are either."

True enough, but even if the squads met at a neutral site or in College Park, repeating the 83-74 win in last year's ACC tournament or that 83-81 instant classic in College Park will be a tough task. Duke boasts an explosive offense, a lockdown defense, is coming off two straight 20-point victories, and is ranked No. 8 in the country. The Terps, while improving, have lost two of three and fell to Virginia, 61-53, Feb. 10.

Don't expect head coach Mark Turgeon and Co. to fold up and go quietly, however. The game, the series and the history mean too much.

"This game means a lot to a lot of people," Turgeon said. "We're not trying to treat this as just another game. It's Duke, so we're excited to play the game…. We know what it represents to Maryland, our fan base and we're looking forward to it. We're trying to represent a lot of past players and coaches in the way they need to be represented.

"It's two great programs. Gary [Williams] had it rolling, Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] had it rolling, teams were wining national championships and getting to Final Fours. There were some monster games during that stretch … and we understand that."

Now, the task of pulling off the monumental upset. Here's what Maryland is up against Feb. 15 at 6 p.m.:

A team ranked No. 1 in the ACC in points per game (82.2).
A team ranked No. 1 in the ACC in field-goal percentage (47.5)
A team ranked No. 1 in the ACC in 3-point percentage (42.0)
A team ranked No. 1 in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.64)
A team ranked No. 2 in the ACC in free-throw percentage (73.9)
A team ranked No. 3 in the ACC in steals (6.96)
A team that has surrendered just 65 points per game in conference play.

About the only areas Duke hasn't performed well are rebounding (12th in ACC) and blocks (14th).

"They're a little more athletic than last year. Duke is one of the best teams and probably playing the best in our league right now," Turgeon said. "It's going to be a tough challenge, it always is down there. Really good players, really good coach, but we're excited."

Freshman forward Jabari Parker has come as advertized, ranking second in the ACC in scoring (19.2 points per game) and first in rebounding (8.5 per). Forward Rodney Hood is second on the squad and eighth in the ACC at 16.5 points per game, and he also shoots 45 percent from beyond the arc.

Speaking of the 3-ball, Duke boasts three of the ACC's top four shooters from deep. In addition to Hood (fourth), guard Rasheed Sulaimon (49.1 percent, first) and guard Andre Dawkins (47.4 percent, second) both can treys at an eye-popping rate. And that doesn't even take into account starting guard Tyler Thornton, who is shooting 52.6 percent from 3, but hasn't had enough attempts (20 of 38) to qualify as a leader.

Meanwhile, junior point guard Quinn Cook is putting up 12.3 points a night, while averaging 5.2 assists, second best in the conference. Add in the fact Duke goes nine deep and the four guys coming off the bench can fill it up, and there's a reason the Devils are a good bet to drop 80 every night.

"We have to stay on them, and we can't take plays off," junior wing Nick Faust said. "They basically have five guards on the floor at one time; they're very fast and they have a lot of weapons."

Duke does love to run in transition, but the Blue Devils' half-court sets feature a variety of screens and cutters. They excel at finding open shooters and exploiting mismatches.

"You can't let those guys get going," Turgeon said. "They changed the starting lineup a little bit and now they're getting used to playing with each other, and they're playing at a really high level offensively."

Defensively, Duke is active and aggressive, forcing turnovers at a dizzying rate. And while they're not a particularly great rebounding squad, forward Amile Jefferson is averaging eight boards a game in ACC play, while the aforementioned Parker is the top glass cleaner in the league.

"They pressure the ball from the start to the end," Faust said. "It opens up a lot of driving lanes, but you have to make right decisions, because if not they'll take [the ball] from you."

To combat Duke's rugged defense, look for Maryland to use several different ball handlers to take the pressure off of point guard Seth Allen. Turgeon also said the Terps will space the floor and run more motion, effectively scrapping the three-man weave that proved ineffective against Virginia.

"Generally you can run your offense, but Duke doesn't really let you get into your offense," said Turgeon, who mentioned that Shaq Cleare and Jake Layman, who were both injured in the Virginia game, are back and healthy. "This is a different animal."

An animal Maryland is sure it can hang with. UMD's head man noted how the Terps have made strides, have shown more confidence and are deeper than they were earlier this season. Even in a loss at UVA, Maryland showed gumption in sticking with a team coming off a string of blowout wins.

"But now we need to win some big games," Turgeon said. "If we want to make hay this season we have a great opportunity [Feb. 15]. We have great opportunities down the stretch, and it's time for us … to string some victories together."

And none would be sweeter than one final upset at Cameron Indoor.

"From the day I set food on the campus, it was Duke – you see the ["I hate"] Duke shirts all around," Turgeon said. "Our guys know what [the rivalry] represents. They realize it's a little bit different than the rest of the games. They know, they understand -- this one's different."

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