While it’s not showing in the win column, the Maryland Terrapins are going to be a tough out in the 2014 ACC tournament, the Terps’ last before leaving the ACC in favor of the Big 10. Maryland has shown in its two most recent games that it’s not far away from being a team that can give opponents headaches in March at the tournament in Greensboro, N.C. Close road losses at Virginia and Duke might not have provided the signature win Maryland’s fading NCAA tournament hopes required, but they did show a competitive spirit and talent that will serve Maryland well as a spoiler in the ACC tournament.
Against Duke on Saturday night, the Terrapins took the lead multiple times down the stretch, before eventually losing 69-67. Charles Mitchell came within centimeters of giving Maryland a one-point lead with a second to play, but his one-handed floater hit the rim, rolled in and then rolled out. An Amile Jefferson free throw with 1.1 seconds left secured the Duke win. Facing a Duke team that has now won 30 straight games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Maryland (14-12, 6-7 ACC) took the lead four different times in the final eight minutes, but couldn’t quite finish the job.
While the final result will certainly sting for Maryland fans in what was the final scheduled regular-season meeting between the Terrapins and Blue Devils (they don’t play at Maryland this season), the journey to get to the point where Mitchell could have won it should serve as an encouraging sign.
Duke has its flaws, but there’s no reason to think the Blue Devils (20-5, 9-3 ACC) aren’t at least an Elite Eight-level team this year if they can sort out some defensive issues. Led by Dez Wells (17 points), Maryland played a tremendous second half in a hostile environment. Jabari Parker led Duke with 23 points.
Most importantly, the Terrapins made progress. On Monday, they played very tough at Virginia for long stretches before the Cavaliers put the game away late. Maryland was on the cusp of a win all the way to the end Saturday. Four of Maryland’s final five games are at home, including tough games vs. conference leaders Syracuse and Virginia, as well as Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
The Terrapins’ only road game left is at Clemson. If Maryland could go 3-2, it would finish 9-9 in the ACC, get a decent seed in the conference tournament and be capable of making a run. The Terrapins should have confidence now that they can play with anyone, it’s just a matter of putting together a complete game and earning wins. By the time the ACC tournament rolls around, Maryland may just have everything figured out.