DURHAM, N.C.-- Rival coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference talk about Maryland’s talent, about how the Terps are a scary opponent despite a disappointing record.
In its last two games, that concern finally seemed to be legitimate, as Maryland followed a down-to-the-wire defeat at No. 20 Virginia with Saturday’s 69-67 loss at No.8 Duke.
Maryland (14-12, 6-7) needs to either win its remaining five regular season games and make a deep run in next month’s ACC tournament – or win the tournament outright – to have any chance at the NCAA tournament.
While both seem unlikely given how erratic the Terps have played nearly from the start of the season, their gutty performance at Cameron Indoor Stadium at least renews the interest of some who had lost all hope.
"This has been a grind, we've been at North Carolina, at Virginia, at Duke, but it's made us so much better,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "We haven't won any of them, but it's made us better."
No matter how close his team came to beating Duke (20-5, 9-3) here for the first time since 2007 – getting two shots within five feet of the basket from sophomore forward Charles Mitchell at the end – Turgeon knows that the Terps still have a couple of chances to build their thin resume.
He is also confident that his young team won’t have an emotional letdown when it plays Wake Forest at Comcast Center Tuesday night. The Terps will then have off until they meet No. 1 Syracuse a week from Monday, in what will be the only home sellout of the season.
"We’ll get over this,” he said Saturday. “We’re starting to ball now. We’re starting to ball.”
In what was arguably Turgeon’s most heartbreaking defeat since coming to Maryland, at least two players – and possibly a third – gave promising performances.
Sophomore forward Jake Layman, who has struggled against top competition, especially on the road, finished with 18 points and six rebounds and helped the Terps cut an early nine-point deficit down to one late in the first half.
Layman defended Rodney Hood well, contributing to the sophomore forward’s 3 for 10 shooting night. Questioned about his toughness and physicality, Layman showed both against the Blue Devils.
“I thought he was great, he did a great job on Hood, he rebounded, he was aggressive on offense,” Turgeon said. “Everywhere he went, it seemed like two guys were guarding him. So he’s making everybody else better.”
Said Layman, “It was time for me to step up and have a good game on the road and I think I did that, just wasn’t enough to win.”
Despite missing the last shot and waiting too long on the previous attempt before having it blocked out of bounds, Mitchell also showed more of an ability to finish near the rim.
Though his last field goal came with 18:54 remaining and he finished 4 of 15 from the field, Mitchell “played his tail off,” Turgeon said. “We wouldn’t have been where we were without him, he was tremendous.”
Then there was freshman Damonte Dodd.
After not playing the previous three games, the 6-9, 240-pound center from Centreville entered the game with 12:31 left in the second half and helped the Blue Devils from getting inside most of the time during his seven-minute stint while the Terps erased another nine-point lead.”
“He went out there and changed the game,” Turgeon said of Dodd. “He altered shots. I just wish he would have fouled [Jabari] Parker there at the end where Parker drove, just make Parker make two free throws instead of a dunk. I was really proud of him.”
Junior guard Dez Wells, who overcame another scoreless, foul-plagued first half to lead Maryland’s comeback with 17 points in the second half, seems confident that the Terps can use their performance here as a catalyst to finishing strong for the second straight year.
“We’re going to be fine,” he said. “We got a lot of tough guys in my lockerroom. We’re not going to hold our heads down and I’m not going to let anybody hold their heads down because nobody’s going to feel sorry for us.
“It’s not about losing, it’s about how you respond from losing, so we have have to come out ready to play our next game and whatever happens, happens. But we have to keep competing to keep our season alive.”