But when the anticipation ended and the first game finally arrived on Saturday -- in front of the high-octane sellout crowd for which the Terps players and coaches had been hoping -- it all seemed worth the wait.
In a game that felt unmistakably different from Maryland's previous 13 contests this season, the Terps -- and freshmen Jake Layman and Seth Allen, in particular -- upped their energy level and passed their first ACC test in striking fashion, dismantling Virginia Tech, 94-71.
It was Maryland's 13th straight victory -- matching a streak from the 2002 national championship season. It's one victory shy of Maryland's longest victory string of 14 in 1931-32.
The Comcast Center crowd of an announced 17,950 was noticeably louder than during the nearly two-month nonconference schedule, and the Terps seemed to respond immediately to their frenetic fans.
"The crowd was great, from the opening tip until the end," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who earlier this season had lamented playing in a "fairly empty" arena. "It makes a huge difference. That's why I came to Maryland."
Layman scored 20 points, including 18 in the first half, to double his previous career high. Allen also topped his career high with 21 points. Layman converted four 3-pointers and Allen had three.
Sophomore center Alex Len scored 16 points and had nine rebounds for the Terps.
It was a game that showcased what a dangerous team Maryland can be with so many weapons.
The Terps played most of the contest without sophomore Nick Faust, who was suffering from back spasms and played only 5 minutes without scoring.
Sophomore guard-forward Dez Wells, who was limited to 21 minutes due to foul trouble, scored 12 points for Maryland.
And yet the Terps still managed their second-highest scoring total of the season, behind the 100 points they scored against UMES on Dec. 5.
"That was fun," said Turgeon, a foot-stomping basketball perfectionist for whom games can sometimes be tortuous. "I know it's not going to be like that every day. But that was fun to watch."
Maryland (13-1, 1-0 ACC) had won its previous games by an average of 17.2 points. The coaches and players could hardly contain their enthusiasm for the better competition awaiting them in their 18-game conference schedule.
Layman and the three other freshmen in the Terps' regular rotation -- Allen, Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell -- were particularly excited to open the ACC slate, and it showed.
Led by Layman, the Terps bolted ahead immediately.
Layman, who at 6-foot-8 can play inside and out, began the game by hitting a 3-pointer from the corner before racing down the court pumping his fist. He quickly followed with a tip-in and a putback dunk.
"For a freshman, that's a good way for him to step up," said Virginia Tech guard Erick Green, the ACC's leading scorer who had 28 points in the game. "He caught me off guard, and I didn't think he was going to score that much."
Turgeon said the Terps will have to guard Green "a lot better" if they hope to beat the Hokies when the teams meet again Feb. 7 in Blacksburg, Va.
After converting a 3-pointer from the corner to push Maryland's lead to 39-31, Layman leaped into the air to chest-bump fellow freshman Charles Mitchell, who was smiling broadly.
Maryland led by as many as 22 before the Hokies (9-5, 0-1 ACC) made a final push in the second half.
Green hit a 3-pointer and Cadarian Raines converted a putback to trim Maryland's advantage to 67-52. Moments later, Jarell Eddie's layup and foul shot cut the margin to 11.
But, led by Len and Allen, the Terps pulled away. Maryland shot 52 percent and converted 10 3-pointers, matching a season high.
Allen and Layman both said they had been anxious before playing their first ACC game. They managed to relax once the contest began.
"Once I hit that [first] shot, I was like, 'The ACC is not going to be the hardest thing in the world,' " said Layman, whose father and brother traveled from Massachusetts to attend the game. "I'm not going to be really so nervous."
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