COLLEGE PARK — College Park -- In cartoons, a little devil appears on either shoulder of our beloved and beleaguered scamp, presenting the good and the bad. At Comcast Center, we see Devils swirling all around. There are no options here. It's bad, bad and more bad.
The Duke Blue Devils have Maryland's number. Right now that number stands at 13. That's how many consecutive losses the Terps women's basketball team has suffered to Duke after yesterday's 86-68 defeat on its home court.
The stage was set yesterday afternoon for something memorable, a cornerstone moment for a program poised for something great. Maryland, with its ridiculously young lineup, carried a No. 6 ranking into the contest. Its lone loss of the season was a five-point nail-biter to Tennessee, the nation's top-ranked team.
Duke was unbeatable - in the Terps' heads and on the Terps' court. Maryland hasn't defeated the Blue Devils at home since 1998, which means Maryland has lost all five meetings at Comcast Center.
Yesterday, we saw exactly what distinguishes the two programs. Coach Brenda Frese called it a "small degree of separation." Everyone else who watched the game should've noticed many more degrees than Frese did.
The list is long: The Terps committed 24 turnovers, which led to 28 Duke points. Only one Terps starter scored more than 10 points. The Blue Devils scored 42 points in the paint - an 18-point advantage over Maryland. And Terps center Crystal Langhorne, who was averaging 9.1 rebounds, didn't pull down a single board against Duke.
The Terps can't win playing like they did yesterday. When the Blue Devils weren't circling Terps heads, problems were.
"We know when we get on the court, we can compete with anyone," Frese said. "There will come a day when we'll beat them."
The good news for the Terps: That day could be very soon. Maryland's lineup is so young, Frese seemed to be calling timeouts for nap breaks.
The oldest of the starting five is junior Shay Doron. The only seniors on the team are Angel Ross and Charmaine Carr. Ross once upon a time started 23 games as a freshman. She's played sparingly in only eight games this season, a testament to the talent around her. Carr, who started 19 games as a freshman, has started just once since and played one minute yesterday. The Terps are fueled by youth.
And it showed yesterday. Dumb turnovers, botched layups and missed passes. There's nothing like a matchup against Duke to expose a team.
Said Blue Devils coach Gail Goestenkors, "It's so nice to see 16,000 fans at a game ... and our team looks great playing in front of a crowd."
Ouch. A team shouldn't come into your building and play in front of your fans in order to look great.
Last year, Duke beat Maryland by 11 in front of 17,243 fans at Comcast Center, an ACC women's record. Yesterday, 16,097 showed up - the second-highest attendance in ACC women's history. The Terps need to take advantage of that kind of crowd support - and they will soon.
A loss to Duke at home means a lot of things to a young team, much more than the Tennessee loss. This one broke a 10-game winning streak and should serve as a wake-up call before the conference season really gets rolling.
"This team is obviously going to continue to grow," Frese said.
The Blue Devils actually provide a good example of what they want to grow into. The Blue Devils took the court with two seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup. Centers Alison Bales and Chante Black, reminded Langhorne that it's a bit different banging around the paint in the ACC than against teams like Manhattan and Central Connecticut State.
Maryland's freshman sensation, Marissa Coleman, had a good teacher yesterday in Blue Devil Monique Currie. Currie had 18 points and played fearlessly. Coleman, who's averaging 15.5 points and has been named the ACC Rookie of the Week three times, finished with nine points but found herself in foul trouble down the stretch when the Terps needed her most.
When you're young like the Terps, it's easy to ignore history. But Duke is Duke, and that means something in the basketball world.
Frese knows that with young players, you can take bad games and spin them into learning experiences. Yesterday's loss wasn't an ACC tournament matchup, but it showed that Maryland probably isn't a legitimate top 10 team right now.
The season has reached its midpoint. The Terps have approached the point in their schedule where they'll either be legitimized or exposed. Maryland's record was built on solid home wins, but the Terps have faced only one serious challenge on the road, last week's overtime win at Boston College.
With games this month at Virginia, at Virginia Tech and at Wake Forest, Maryland's place on the national landscape is about to become real clear. Right now, every single week is a test for a team that still has a lot to learn.
Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog