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At last, Terps, Hoyas renew regional rivalry

Maryland forward Michal Cekovsky, left, of Slovakia, drives against Georgetown center Bradley Hayes in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in College Park, Md.
Maryland forward Michal Cekovsky, left, of Slovakia, drives against Georgetown center Bradley Hayes in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in College Park, Md. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

It remains to be seen whether the two-year deal between Maryland and Georgetown leads to a more permanent resumption of the long-ago rivalry between the region's two biggest college basketball powers, but the excitement surrounding Tuesday night's early-season showdown at Xfinity Center should push both schools in that direction.

There has been plenty of time for everyone to think about it. The Terps and Hoyas had not faced each other in a non-NCAA tournament game since1993 and this was the first time Maryland hosted Georgetown since 1973.

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The reasons for that are well known among the local basketball intelligentsia. The relationship was fractured by a coaching feud more than three decades ago and has never really been repaired, even though there are all sorts of reasons why it should never have been severed.

Just ask former Maryland star Joe Smith, who held court with the media before the game, and was asked if he was surprised that the Terps and Hoyas had not played a regular-season game since he dominated the 1993 game.

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''I am," Smith said. "I'm shocked. There were a couple of times in the tournament. If not for that, it would be a longer gap. This is a game the city welcomes, everybody welcomes, both schools welcome. I think it is a game that should happen more."

There certainly was no argument from the enthusiastic sellout crowd of 17,950, which cheered wildly when the No. 3 Terrapins took the floor before the game and booed just as enthusiastically when the Hoyas joined them on the court moments later.

That initial reaction alone is proof that this is a rivalry waiting to be reborn. The game also was worth the wait. Especially for the Terps faithful, which saw the home team rally late behind a gritty 24-point performance by Melo Trimble to improve to 2-0 with a 75-71 victory.

Of course, it would have been a big night for the Terps crowd regardless of the regional ramifications. The Terps were playing their first top-flight opponent with a star-studded lineup that is expected to be a strong contender for the national championship. The student sections were packed with kids wearing white "Maryland '15" T-shirts for a game televised nationally on ESPN2.

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"It's big for both schools,'' Smith said. "It's big for the University of Maryland. It's big for Georgetown. And, of course, it's good for the kids and the bragging rights. These kids come from the same area pretty much, so they play against each other in high school, so you like to see them take it to the next level in college. I think it's huge for the colleges and the kids."

It is hard to think of a legitimate counterargument, though legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson apparently had his reasons for not wanting to continue playing teams coached by Lefty Driesell, and the Hoyas again lost interest in facing Maryland after the 1993 defeat.

"It was more Georgetown,'' said sports author John Feinstein, who has written several books on big-time college basketball. "Georgetown would not play. When I was doing the matchmaking for the BB&T [Tournament], we tried everything to get them to play Maryland, and they just categorically would not play Maryland. Gary [Williams] was willing to do it."

Sure, there are logistical and scheduling issues that might make it hard to commit to a permanent series. Terps coach Mark Turgeon said as much when he was asked about the possibility during his news conference on Monday.

"Let's just see how it goes,'' Turgeon said. "I think it's great. This is great for the fans. It's great for the area. It's exciting. It's great for our area. I think we needed it. John [Thompson III] and I talked about playing this game for awhile. I don't know how many tickets we could have sold if we had a giant arena."

Though Turgeon seemed pleased with the early opportunity to test his team against a quality opponent in a high-energy environment, he remained a bit non-committal about the prospects for extending the two-year agreement with the Hoyas beyond next year's game at Verizon Center.

"We'll see,'' he said. "I've got to talk to John. It takes two to tango. Let's just try to enjoy the first two years. It's back. It's been a long time. Everybody's excited and we'll go from there."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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