COLLEGE PARK - The Maryland Terrapins have gone into Cameron Indoor Stadium, stared down a favored Duke team and emerged with a season-altering victory before.
In February 2001, the 16th-ranked Terps traveled to Durham, N.C., less than two weeks removed from a horrendous stretch during which they lost five of six games, and shocked the No. 2 Blue Devils, 91-80, behind 28 points from Juan Dixon. What followed for the Terps were six wins in seven outings and coach Gary Williams' first trip to the Final Four.
This year's team talked of similar aspirations when the season began, but the Terps (11-5, 2-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference) are now confronted by a disconcerting reality as they enter tonight's game against No. 2 and undefeated Duke (15-0, 5-0).
In losses to North Carolina, Wake Forest and North Carolina State - three teams predicted to finish near the top of the league when the season began - the Terps were outscored by an average of nearly 22 points and were competitive only briefly. After the latest loss, an 85-69 home setback to the Wolfpack on Sunday in a game in which Maryland trailed by 26 at halftime, coach Gary Williams, admittedly concerned, said his Terps will struggle to beat an elite team until they can put together a full 40 minutes.
"We have to get more consistent," said Williams, who said that changes in the starting lineup are possible tonight, but wouldn't get specific. "It's late in the year for me to be saying that, but we haven't shown any consistency yet. It will be a test of our character to see if we can come back from [the N.C. State loss]. You always get a chance to measure your team by how they respond to certain challenges."
About 10 months have elapsed since the Terps took down Duke, 95-87 in overtime, to complete a stunning run to the ACC tournament title, and both teams that took the court that afternoon in Greensboro are different than the ones that will play tonight before a nationally televised ESPN audience.
Former Blue Devils Chris Duhon and Luol Deng are in the NBA and prized recruit Shaun Livingston made the jump from high school to the pros.
The losses caused outsiders to affix unusually modest expectations on the Blue Devils, but all they have done is win their first 15 games, establishing themselves as one of three undefeated teams in the nation. Top-ranked Illinois and No. 8 Boston College are the other two.
"We have a good team," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "We don't have a great team. If we make a number of mistakes ... we are probably going to lose that game. We also know we have a lot of really tough games ahead. We're going to lose games probably - we could lose a number of them, who knows?"
Williams looks at the Duke roster and sees "three great players," all of whom are averaging at least 33 minutes per game. Junior guard J.J. Redick leads the ACC in scoring (21.7), free-throw percentage (.956) and three-point field goals per game (3.53). Senior guard Daniel Ewing, who is averaging 16.6 points a game, is second in the league in steals (2.53).
Junior 6-foot-9 forward Shelden Williams is 13th in the ACC in scoring (15.6), second in field-goal percentage (.622) and first in rebounding (11.3) and blocks (3.60).
"This was probably the lowest-rated Duke team in a while at the start of the year, and they had the mentality of, 'OK, we are going to show everybody,'" said Williams, whose team will need to defend the perimeter better than it did Sunday when the Wolfpack hit 12 of 26 three-point shots. "It really shows in the way they play. I haven't seen a game where they weren't really ready to play."
Krzyzewski made a similar remark about Williams' team earlier this week, and said that the team that beat his Blue Devils in March and this year's version are "a lot alike."
"They are a talented basketball team," he said. "Gary's teams are always really good and really competitive. They play smart basketball and they come to play. We expect that."
Guard John Gilchrist and center Jamar Smith combined for 51 points and 19 rebounds in that victory over Duke. Smith is now playing in Europe and the Terps haven't found a consistent low-post performer to replace him as Travis Garrison and Ekene Ibekwe often look out of position.
Gilchrist is still a Terp, but in the past four games, he averaged eight points and shot just 29 percent and appeared confused about his role in the offense. Maryland will probably need a breakout performance from him tonight.
"Duke is another team, in my opinion," said Gilchrist after Sunday's loss. (Williams declined to make his players available to the media yesterday.) "All the rivalry [talk], it's great for the whole hype, but if you look at the game as basketball, it's just another team and they're beatable just like everybody else."
Matchup: Maryland (11-5, 2-3) vs. Duke (15-0, 5-0)
Site: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)