by David Elfin

Consistency is a favorite word of coaches and athletes. Even when their teams are constantly losing, they’ll say something along the lines of, “We just have to be more consistent.”

Of course, they are being consistent, consistently lousy that is.

That’s not the case for Maryland men’s basketball team which is 17-7 heading into tomorrow’s visit from second-ranked Duke. However, after rattling off 12 straight non-conference victories after a season-opening loss to Kentucky, coach Mark Turgeon’s Terps have seemingly been unable to achieve any consistency during their ACC schedule.

Here are Maryland’s results in conference games: W, L, L, W, L, W, L, L, W, W, L. If the Terps lose to the Blue Devils, who crushed them 84-64 in Durham, N.C. three weeks ago, they’ll have just six games left to try to put together a true winning streak against teams that aren’t the likes of LIU-Brooklyn, Delaware State and IUPUI.

And look a little deeper into Maryland’s ACC record and the truth becomes frighteningly apparent. After losing 80-69 to visiting Virginia in their most recent game last Saturday, the Terps are 1-6 against the teams ahead of them or tied with them in the conference, 4-0 against those behind them. And that lone top-tier victory came on a last-second shot at home against N.C. State, which is just 6-5 in the ACC.

“This one hurt,” Maryland sophomore guard Nick Faust said after the loss to Virginia.

“It’s gotten so late in the season,” added senior guard Logan Aronhalt. “There’s no more next game. It’s got to be right now. We gotta go. We gotta lot work to do this week preparing for Duke and really [working] on ourselves. We gotta lot of work to do to finish the season out and get a NCAA Tournament] bid. At times, we’ve been right there. [Against Virginia] we just didn’t have it. We just gotta find a way to have it 100 percent of the time.”

Ah, the dreaded lack of consistency, a quality that Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke teams have had for decades. Which helps explain why he’s the winningest coach in college hoops history.

Asked how the Terps can be more successful against the Blue Devils this time, Aronhalt said, “Don’t let them make so many threes. That was pretty much the game. And we didn’t execute very well on offense. Our execution since then has been better, but on defense [against Duke] it has to be perfect.”

That certainly wasn’t the case against the underrated Cavaliers. Virginia shot 54.2 percent overall, 57.9 percent from beyond the arc, while also surprisingly outrebounding Maryland 34-29.

Turgeon praised the Cavs’ hustle and physicality. Aronhalt cited their three-point shooting and post play. Faust credited Virginia’s superior shooting while freshman backcourt mate Seth Allen mentioned the rebounding edge.

Getting to more loose balls, being more physical, rebounding, and guarding three-point shots and the paint better. Phew. I bet it has been a tough week of practice for the young Terps, who have just two seniors (forward James Padgett and transfer Aronhalt) and one junior (guard Pe’Shon Howard) in their 10-man rotation.

The good news for Turgeon and Co. is that four of their six games after tomorrow’s huge test with Duke are against lesser lights Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. If Maryland sweeps that quartet, it will finish no worse than .500 in ACC play, a record it topped just once during the previous four seasons.

But going 21-10 overall and 9-9 in the conference with your most notable triumphs coming over Northwestern and N.C. State isn’t an NCAA-worthy resume. If Maryland doesn’t upset Duke, or North Carolina on Mar. 6 in College Park, or at least avenge the defeat to Virginia by winning the season finale in Charlottesville, it will almost certainly take a run to the ACC Tournament final for the Terps to be awarded an invitation to the big dance.

For now, the Terps are focused on beating the Blue Devils for the first time in seven matchups over the last three seasons.

“I’m excited,” said Aronhalt, who like fellow transfer Dez Wells and freshmen Allen, Shaquille Cleare, Jake Layman and Charles Mitchell has yet to play in a Maryland-Duke game at Comcast Center. “I know it’s going to be a great atmosphere. If we win that game, great things can happen the rest of the way.”

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin


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