New look, same 'rival' for Terps against Virginia on Wednesday

Terps men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon.
Terps men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon. (Denny Medley, USA Today Sports)

COLLEGE PARK — The last meeting between Maryland and Virginia was one of historic proportions.

It came in March, the wall of seats behind the Terps' first-half basket packed with students and bedecked in a court-to-concourse banner at Comcast Center with the number "61" to signify the number of years Maryland had been a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.


A 75-69 overtime victory for the Terps was Maryland's biggest win in a largely disappointing 17-15 season. It also turned out to be the first loss for the then-No. 5 Cavaliers in nearly two months and their last until losing to eventual NCAA champion Connecticut in the Elite 8 at Madison Square Garden.

When these two longtime rivals meet Wednesday night at what is now the Xfinity Center, it will have a different kind of historical relevance. It marks the first game Maryland will play in the ACC-Big Ten challenge since switching leagues earlier this year. It also marks the first time the two schools will meet here when both are ranked.


Though he hopes for the same type of ending for the 21st-ranked Terps (7-0) this time, fourth-year Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said during a news conference that Wednesday's game has a much different feel — and should have a much different look — than the one in March.

"I don't think the excitement's there like it was last year, but it's still going to be an exciting night," Turgeon said Tuesday. "I imagine we're going to have a great crowd, and we should. When we ended the game last year, we didn't know whether we were going to play them for a long time, and here we are again.

"It's still kind of a rival to our fans. … They have most of their guys back. They lost two good ones [Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell]. Tomorrow night, if Evan [Smotrycz] doesn't play … we'll have a totally different look than what we had last year. It's still Virginia, they're a top 10 team and it's a great opportunity for us."

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said on a teleconference Monday that he was initially "surprised" to learn that the Cavaliers would face Maryland again so quickly after last year's much-publicized game on national television.


It began to make sense to Bennett when he thought about how Virginia played Wisconsin — where his father Dick once coached — two straight years in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

"Getting used to Maryland as a Big Ten-ACC rival didn't sound normal, but ESPN pairs the teams and I can see why they did," Bennett said Monday. "It's a natural rivalry."

It's also a coming-out party of sorts for one of the country's most surprising — and youngest — teams.

Junior forward Jake Layman said it will be the first time many of the Maryland fans will have seen the Terps play this season, since the arena has been only partially filled for the five previous home games and several games have not been on television.

"Tomorrow is really our fans' first time seeing us on that big stage," Layman said. "It's going to be a packed house, everyone's going to be watching. It's going to be exciting for the young guys."

Even for some of the older players as well.

Layman wants to show that he can be as productive in this type of game as he has against lesser opponents, something he has struggled with at times over his career.

In four career games against the Cavaliers, Layman has yet to shoot well — a combined 7 of 26, including 2 of 13 on 3-pointers. Three of those matchups have been losses for the Terps.

Senior forward Jon Graham, who is expected to start Wednesday, played a total of 16 minutes in the two Virginia games last season. Sophomore center Damonte Dodd, who also could start, didn't even take off his warmups last year against the Cavaliers.

"It's going to be a great game, it's going to be electric," Graham said. "My dad [former Terps star Ernie Graham] didn't tell me too much about his days [against] Virginia, but I'm sure they were battles. I've got Maryland across my chest. It's an honor to have that. Every game we play in — especially games like these — it's an honor to play in."

The four freshmen and senior transfer Richaud Pack who have played such a key part in Maryland's fast start were not here last season, though point guard Melo Trimble sat behind the bench for that game as the team's top recruit and Pack, then at North Carolina A&T, watched on television.

Asked what he was thinking as he witnessed last year's game at Maryland, Trimble said Tuesday: "I want to be a part of that one day. It feels good because hopefully tomorrow I can be a part of that."

The only thing that could approach replicating Wednesday's atmosphere for Pack is when he was a freshman at Florida International and Florida State came to town.

"That was a pretty big home game at the time," recalled Pack, who is coming off a season-high 22-point performance in Sunday's win over VMI. "It was sold out, pretty live arena, close game for the most part. That was a pretty good atmosphere, probably the best home game I have been a part of."

Adding to Wednesday's atmosphere is the contrasting styles of the two teams, though the approach the Terps have taken since senior forward Dez Wells fractured his wrist last week gets them closer to the defense-minded Cavaliers.

Not that Maryland's defense is up there with Virgnia's — few teams can make that claim.

The Cavaliers are ranked first in fewest points allowed (43.6 per game) and third in field-goal percentage defense (30.1). Maryland is averaging more than 78 points per game and shooting just less than 50 percent as a team.

"They're just drilled and drilled and drilled, they're really solid. You've either got to make jump shots, you've got to figure out a way to space them and try to get to the foul line," Turgeon said. "If you're not doing either one of those, it's going to be a long night."

Even without Wells, and possibly Smotrycz, the Terps have shown they have players like Pack and all of the freshmen who can score. Layman believes that, given the difference in personnel, the Cavaliers might have a more difficult time scouting Maryland than the Terps have getting ready for Virginia.

"I think it's definitely going to be harder for them, with all the new faces on our team, guys that they've never played against before. And for us, it's guys that we've seen for the past few years," Layman said. "I think it will be tougher for them to adjust to our offense."



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