Mark Turgeon played in the epic Kansas-Missouri border wars in the mid-1980s. He has coached in the Wichita State-Creighton and Texas A&M-Texas battles and in the Maryland-North Carolina rivalry.
“Those games were different, no doubt,” said Turgeon, who succeeded Gary Williams in College Park in 2011. “Players got a little more excited. Coaches got a little more excited. And of course, the fans got more excited.”
When Turgeon’s 14-11 Terps visit No. 8 Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday for the final time after 60 years as ACC foes, it will truly be the end of an exciting era in Maryland basketball history, sometimes way too exciting.
The Maryland-Duke rivalry probably reached its peak in the 2001 Final Four when Blue Devils star Shane Battier sold the officials on enough charging calls against the Terps to help Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Co. come back from a huge deficit en route to the national championship.
Maryland fans responded by lighting fires in College Park and causing an estimated $500,000 in damages, starting a ridiculous trend that continued after Terps won their only NCAA title the next spring and the celebration resulted in 17 arrests, six police cars vandalized and three state troopers injured.
After the upset of the Blue Devils in 2010 — which turned out to be Williams’ final victory over Duke — 28 people, 23 of them students, were charged with various offenses during the near-riot on Route 1.
“We had some memorable games against Duke once we got back to the level where we could compete with them [in 1995],” said Williams, who inherited NCAA sanctions when he returned to his alma mater in 1989. “We were thin that year, but we had a terrific starting five and we beat Duke at Cole. We played them four times in 2001 including the game won at Cameron on Shane Battier’s senior night. And then we beat them at Comcast in 2002 when Steve Blake stole the ball from [counterpart point guard] Jason Williams [to seal the victory].”
The rivalry was just about as intense in the early and mid-1980s.
“The Duke games were special to me because I played there, but the games against North Carolina and N.C. State were bigger until 1980,” said Lefty Driesell, Maryland’s coach from 1969-86.
Led by Albert King and Buck Williams, the Terps had clobbered the Blue Devils 101-82 at Cole Field House and fallen 66-61 at Cameron before the teams met in the ACC Tournament final. In a play that Driesell and Maryland fans will never forget the Blue Devils’ Kenny Dennard taking out Williams’s legs under the basket at the end of Duke’s 73-72 triumph.
Thankfully, no one torched mattresses or caused a commotion afterwards in College Park in that kinder, gentler era when the most notorious prank was the “Cameron Crazies” donning skull caps inscribed with a gas gauge on empty to mock the balding Driesell. He laughed and signed them with an X instead of a signature.
For a coach who was more famous for his salesmanship than his strategy, Driesell went 23-18 against Duke, which had five losing seasons during his Maryland tenure. Williams, who only coached against the Blue Devils when NCAA career victory leader Krzyzewski was on the opposite bench, was just 14-38. Turgeon is 2-3 after winning two of three matchups last year.
Sadly, in a “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” message, the ACC powers-that-be punished the Terps for leaving the conference for the Big Ten after this season by having them play at North Carolina and Duke, but not at home against those schools. So Maryland’s fans had to bid farewell to their biggest rivals last winter.
“For our fans, I would’ve loved to have had Carolina and Duke here, but it didn’t work out that way,” said Turgeon, whose team is 4-1 at Comcast Center in conference play this year, but just 2-5 on the road.
And after losing 61-53 at No. 17 Virginia on Monday while losing center Shaquille Cleare and shooter Jake Layman to injuries, Maryland dropped to 0-6 on the road against ranked teams during Turgeon’s three seasons. Duke is 13-0 at home this year and has won 29 straight at Cameron.
The Terps, desperate for a signature triumph to keep their flickering NCAA hopes alive, haven’t won in Durham since 2007.
“In a perfect world, the ACC would stay the same forever, but it started to change when we expanded to Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College in 2003,” Gary Williams said. “In today’s world of college athletics, you have to have the revenues and moving to the Big 10 is a great [financial] opportunity for Maryland. It’s sad that we won’t be playing Duke and Carolina anymore, but things change.”
Indeed, throughout all the movement and turmoil in college sports, only the non-scholarship Ivy League has remained intact. For the schools that take sports more seriously, it’s all about the Benjamins.
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 four Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.
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