When Mark Turgeon decided to leave Texas A&M for Maryland last May, this is what he envisioned at Comcast Center: a hyped-up, sellout crowd arriving early and providing a palpable buzz that would put his team's opponent at a decided disadvantage.
With the exception of one home game in November -- an ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup with Illinois -- the Terps could have been playing in any arena where the expectations are as low as the decibel level.
That is likely to change tonight, when Turgeon will get a taste of what Comcast Center had been for most of its nine seasons under his predecessor. The arrival of eighth-ranked Duke, Maryland's most reviled opponent, should amp things up. So should the pregame ceremony naming the court in Gary Williams' honor.
"I'm looking forward to it," Turgeon said Tuesday. "I hope we react the right way. It's hard to play in front of a sellout when you haven't all year. I know it's going to help us more than it's going to hurt us."
After losing two straight games for the first time since Turgeon took over, Maryland (12-6, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) will be trying to avoid its third consecutive defeat against Duke (16-3, 4-1), which is coming off a last-second loss at home Saturday to Florida State.
Turgeon might not know that Williams lost his first 12 games against the Blue Devils while rebuilding the program. But he knows how meaningful the game is, particularly to the fans.
Asked whether he was aware of the Maryland-Duke rivalry while coaching at Texas A&M and before that at Wichita State and Jacksonville State, Turgeon acknowledged that he "didn't watch the games" but knew of Williams' passion for it.
"A rivalry is a rivalry, and it's more important to the people involved. Now, for me, this is the most important rivalry that there is," Turgeon said. "I understand that. I was at Texas A&M, and, unfortunately, the only game that mattered all year was the Texas game. It shouldn't be that way, but that's the way it is. I don't think our fans think this is the only game that matters, but it's certainly the most important to them."
It is also the most important to his players.
"We both [are coming] off tough losses," said senior guard Sean Mosley (St. Frances), referring to Saturday's 73-60 road loss to Temple. "We need a big win. This is a win that we need to make it to the tournament. They have a bigger team than us. We have to do the little things and value each of our possessions."
Said junior forward James Padgett, "This can be a big signature win for us going forward, so we need this."
Padgett conceded that he and others who played under Williams have even more incentive than usual going up against the Blue Devils.
"Coach Williams always got up for a big game, so I'm thinking in my mind that we have to play for Coach Williams," Padgett said. "We don't want to let him down on his big night. It's not going to be easy. But all the energy and the atmosphere is going to be a plus for us."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn't think it's going to be different from any other game at Maryland.
"As far as them being more hostile or emotional, they are all the time, so I don't know if that will get them more," college basketball's all-time winningest Division I coach said during the ACC teleconference Monday. "They have a great crowd all the time when they're playing us, so whether the court was named after [Williams] before the game or not, I would expect them to give us their best shot."
Mosley can tell Turgeon understands the significance of his first Duke game. Though he has never coached against Krzyzewski, Turgeon has said that losing to the Blue Devils in the 1986 Final Four as a junior at Kansas was the most difficult defeat of his college career.
"He knows when it's a big game," Mosley said Tuesday. "He's been in our shoes before. He knows that when it's a big game, things start to change. He understands that we play Duke tomorrow night and everyone is going to be up. Practices have been intense, really intense, lately for us because tomorrow night things are going to be sped up to an extra speed."
Notes: Athletic department officials are advising fans who want to see the court-naming ceremony to be in their seats by 8:30 p.m., with the ceremony beginning about 8:40. Turgeon said freshman center Alex Len, who sprained an ankle Saturday in Philadelphia, is questionable for tonight's game. "He did not practice" Monday, Turgeon said. "Obviously, we need him. We need his length. I'd hate for him to miss this game because every time our young guys can play in a big game it helps us for the future."
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