As rookie coach Mark Turgeon’s feisty but inconsistent Terps take the floor tonight in Chapel Hill against sixth-ranked North Carolina, it might be hard for a generation of Maryland fans raised to despise Duke to understand, but the Tar Heels used to be the Terps’ most hated rivals.
While there was a brief period when N.C. State and David Thompson dominated the ACC in the mid-1970s, from the time that coach Lefty Driesell put Maryland on the map in 1971 until Duke became the conference king after Michael Jordan’s departure from Chapel Hill in 1984, the Tar Heels ruled.
During his 17 seasons in College Park, Driesell was 11-28 against UNC and its legendary coach Dean Smith, 337-131 against everyone else.
The Terps of Tom McMillen and Len Elmore managed to battle the Tar Heels to a draw from 1972-74 and the Albert King-Buck Williams team swept UNC in 1980, but otherwise it was pretty much misery for the Lefthander against Smith until Len Bias dealt UNC its first loss in the new “Dean Dome” in 1986 with a monster 35-point game.
Driesell had a winning record against the five other schools that were members of the ACC during the majority of his tenure at Maryland: Clemson, Duke, N.C. State, Virginia and Wake Forest, but Carolina was usually just too powerful for the Terps.
That dominance didn’t change after Driesell was ousted in the wake of Bias’ June 1986 death from a cocaine overdose. Bob Wade was 0-6 against UNC. Gary Williams was 6-12 against Smith and 13-15 against the Tar Heels’ successors through his own retirement last spring.
And Turgeon lost his debut to Carolina coach Roy Williams and Co. 83-74 on Feb. 4 at Comcast Center despite 20 points from sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin as Maryland couldn’t hold a five-point lead that it had grabbed midway through the second half.
Given the undermanned Terps’ 1-7 road record this season – a 64-62 escape at Clemson is the lone success – and the Tar Heels’ 16-1 home mark, the odds of an upset tonight are about as long as 7-foot-1 Maryland freshman center Alex Len. Still, the Terps have won four of the last seven in the series and few could have foreseen them come storming back with a late 10-0 run to stun Miami last Tuesday so they have been full of surprises.
But unless Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and the rest of the Tar Heels are fully looking ahead to Saturday’s regular season finale at archrival Duke, the visitors have virtually no chance tonight.
In the wake of last Saturday’s discouraging loss at Georgia Tech that basically killed his team’s hope of a .500 finish in the ACC, Turgeon can give a Braveheart-like pregame speech to inspire a fantastic effort, but it’s still Maryland at North Carolina in the “Dean Dome” where the Terps are just 7-16 since Bias’ unforgettable night 26 years ago. And these Terps don’t have a Bias nor much hope against the guys in baby blue.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “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 March.