In the hours leading up to Tuesday's game between No. 2 Maryland and No. 9 North Carolina, local college basketball fans wondered what kind of reaction Rasheed Sulaimon would receive at the Smith Center in his first game here with the Terps.
A young mother having lunch with her 16-month old son in Durham, N.C., who said she came from a "Duke family" before going to graduate school at North Carolina believed Sulaimon wouldn't be treated as harshly, joking that the senior guard "had abdicated."
A male North Carolina student sitting behind press row agreed, saying shortly before the starting lineups were announced that not wearing a Duke uniform on the Tar Heels' home court would likely lessen the verbal venom being spewed. When Sulaimon was the only Maryland player booed, the student shrugged.
"Guess I was wrong," he said.
Sulaimon hasn't considered himself a Dukie for months, and in the course of his 18-point performance during Maryland's 89-81 loss to the favored Tar Heels, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard continued to show his allegiance toward and importance for the Terps.
Along with sophomore point guard Melo Trimble, who finished with 23 points and a career-high 12 assists, Sulaimon helped Maryland stay in the game by hitting one big shot after another, one tougher than the next despite being booed nearly every time he touched the ball.
"I just tried to do whatever I can to help my team win," Sulaimon said afterward. "At the end of the day, it would be hard to say I tuned it out because there were 20,000-plus people. That's exactly what the crowd wanted me to do, to make it a personal vendetta and get me out of my game. I just tried to totally invest in our team and do whatever the team needed me to do to help us win tonight."
It nearly worked.
On a night when fellow senior Jake Layman and junior forward Robert Carter struggled to stay on the court because of foul trouble - and Layman struggled offensively, period, finishing with four points on 1 of 5 shooting, missing all three of his 3-pointers - Sulaimon and Trimble kept making plays until they seemed to tire down the stretch while playing 35 and 38 minutes, respectively.
Asked if he felt any different coming to North Carolina in a Maryland uniform rather than a Duke uniform, Sulaimon said, "I'm a Maryland Terp now. The past is the past, all you can do is move forward in life. I'm happy where I'm at. I'm familiar playing in this building but I came here with my brothers, my teammates and we played a helluva game."
Sulaimon said that "we did a lot of things great" -- including hitting 30 of 59 shots, including 12 of 26 3-point attempts -- and "we also did some things that we can learn from" -- specifically the 22 turnovers, which led to 21 points for the Tar Heels.
"The good thing is that it's only the seventh game of the season, so we'll learn from this," Sulaimon said.
Trimble, who said he was "tight" in the first half when he made a majority of his career-high eight turnovers, agreed with a player who is quickly becoming a mentor for him.
"After we lost, we're going to learn from this game and keep getting better," Trimble said. "We don't even know our offense yet, we know we got to get better on defense, like I said it's only the beginning of the year."
Last week in Mexico, Trimble said Sulaimon plays with a "chip" on his shoulder after being dismissed from the Duke team last season. Trimble said after Tuesday's game that the chip was even bigger against the Tar Heels.
"It was a lot bigger tonight, I felt his emotion before the game, how much he wanted to win this game," Trimble said.
Yet it was not simply about Sulaimon's return to the once-heated-and-hated rival school. When Trimble got off to a tough start and couldn't seem to hang onto to ball and get his team in its offense, it was Sulaimon who helped settle him down.
"Even when I wasn't doing too great, he told me he was going to need me and he was a great teammate after that," Trimble said.
That Sulaimon could play so well in such a loud, emotional setting "says a lot about him," Trimble said. "It says a lot about his character, he didn't put it as he's was worrying about transferring from Duke or anything like that. He said he wanted to win with this group of guys and that tells me he's a good person."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams was impressed with the way both Maryland guards played.
"Rasheed and Melo were so big for them," Williams said.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon wasn't surprised with the way Sulaimon -- and Trimble -- stepped up. Though Trimble had never played in a regular season road game with such hoopla attached, it was something Sulaimon experienced on a regular basis during his 2 1/2 seasons with the Blue Devils.
"He's used to it," Turgeon said. "He played on a team that's the most hated team in America everywhere he went, so he probably thrived on it. I thought he was terrific. I thought he was great, glad we got him. He's a smart player, a good player, a great leader. I think I've got the best backcourt in the country, those two guys. I really do. We're just going to get better and better as the year goes on."