COLLEGE PARK — Maryland fans are well aware that Saturday's game against No. 8 Duke will be the Terps' last visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium for the foreseeable future — or at least until Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has nothing to say about it.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his players know that, too, so for them, the nationally televised matchup against the Blue Devils has as much to do with the rivalry's heated history as the current plight of this Terps team, one whose NCAA tournament resume is without a signature win.
"This game means a lot to a lot of people," Turgeon said Friday after practice. "We're not just trying to treat this as another game — it's Duke. We're excited to play the game. Duke's one of the best teams in our league. They're probably playing the best in our league right now."
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Duke associate head coach and Severna Park native Steve Wojciechowski (Cardinal Gibbons) said Friday that "for me, personnally, it's a sad end to a great era — obviously, some instant-classic-type games between two outstanding programs. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around Maryland not being in the ACC. It's very difficult to do."
An upset victory over the heavily favored Blue Devils might not be enough to put the Terps back in the NCAA tournament discussion, but it would at least give Turgeon's underachieving team a small amount of solace in an otherwise disappointing season.
"What a great deal for us, playing on ESPN versus Duke, the whole country will be watching," Turgeon said. "If we want to make hay this season, we have a great opportunity tomorrow night at 6 o'clock. … We're trying to represent a lot of past coaches and past players the way they need to be represented."
Maryland (14-11, 6-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) beat Duke (19-5, 8-3) in their two most recent meetings — first, in what could be the Blue Devils' last appearance at Comcast Center and then in the ACC tournament quarterfinals in Greensboro, N.C. The Terps haven't won in Durham since 2007.
"We are confident. Even the last two years we played down there, the scores might not have looked like it was a close game, but it was a pretty close game," said Turgeon, referring to 73-55 and 84-64 losses in 2012 and 2013, respectively. "We're playing better. We're a much better team than we were a month ago. We're much more confident."
Wojciechowski said he expects a tougher game than many might.
"I think they're a very talented team," Wojciechowski said. "They're playing some of their best basketball, they're very dangerous. They had some injuries, and any time you have injuries, it can hurt you. We think it's going to be a very difficult test."
Turgeon is hoping some of the bravado Juan Dixon took with him to Cameron Indoor Stadium as a player can rub off on the Terps, now that the school's all-time leading scorer will be on the bench Saturday in his role as Turgeon's special assistant.
"I've never been intimidated once playing down at Duke when I was here [playing] at Maryland, and I don't think these guys are [going to be intimidated], either," said Dixon, who won only three times in 11 games against the Blue Devils as a player, though two of the wins came on the road.
Given the way Maryland traditionally has played at Duke and the way the Terps have played on the road this season, it's unlikely that they will be able to compltely silence Blue Devils fans from making one more snarky "Not our rival" chant or another derisive good-bye chorus for a team heading to the Big Ten Conference next season.
The Terps have heard "A-C-C" chanted at them several times this season, most recently on Monday night in Charlottesville, Va. Maryland led Virginia by one point at halftime and fell behind by as many as 11 in the second half before getting as close as four with a little over a minute left. After junior forward Evan Smotrycz's 3-pointer rimmed out, the Cavaliers pulled away for a 61-53 win.
Terps junior guard Dez Wells, whose 30-point performance against Duke led Maryland to an 83-74 victory in last year's ACC tournament, said the Terps can use the environment of one of college basketball's most intimate and loudest venues to their advantage.
"When you're playing in front of a hostile crowd on the road, you have to use that as motivation," Wells said. "If not, it's not going to help you at all. It's going to get into your head and it's going to be tough to play through it."
Wells, who grew up a Duke fan in nearby Raleigh, N.C., said he wants to "leave out on a good note playing against Duke. They're a great team, great program, one of the greatest coaches to ever coach in college. Just compete and do the things that Juan and the team did when they beat Duke at Duke. It's a tough place to play, but anything's possible."