For what felt like the first time in the Mark Turgeon era, Comcast Center housed an incredible, big-game, “I swear to God I’m not sure the roof will be able to take this” atmosphere Saturday night as the University of Maryland stunned #2 (#1 according to the coaches) Duke 83-81.
It was an incredible night. The game itself was captivating, as the Terrapins completely squandered a late 10 point lead before two Seth Allen free throws saved them. There was controversy in officiating, a high level of intensity and physicality from players and a number of big time shots made by likely future NBA players like Seth Curry, Alex Len and Quinn Cook.
But even more captivating was the atmosphere in the building, which reached a Gary Williams era-esque “fever pitch” at multiple times. Celebrities, dignitaries and former Terps filled the building, students arrived hours early and delivered a charming first half flash mob before emptying onto the floor (and College Park’s Route 1) following the victory.
It was a two and a half hour frenzy, a feeling that remained palpable even as I watched the replay of the game Sunday night on ESPNU.
The victory was emotional for a number of reasons. It was emotional because it was a throwback to a decade ago, when the level of the Maryland-Duke series rivaled even Duke-North Carolina as the best in the entire sport. It was emotional because it gave a major shot in the arm to the fledgling NCAA Tournament hopes of a Terps team in danger of missing out on March Madness for a third consecutive season. It was emotional because there is clearly a renewed level of bad blood between the programs based on Maryland’s decision to bolt the ACC in favor of the Big Ten. In the week leading up to the game Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski made it clear Duke wouldn’t be continuing a series with the Terps after the conference change happened and after the game he continued to fire shots in the direction of a program that helped to put the ACC on the map.
But it was incredibly emotional in particular for head coach Mark Turgeon, who had yet to record a “signature” win as he began the homestretch in his second season in College Park. Students rushed the floor following the Terps’ win over then-Number 14 North Carolina State earlier in the season, but even at the time the win felt a bit flimsy. Maryland had made a habit out of knocking off top ranked teams under Williams but hadn’t made a similar level of national noise yet under Turgeon.
Yet when asked about what the win meant to him, Turgeon offered an unpredictable answer.
“It’s been a hard week”, Turgeon started while fighting back tears. ”I take a lot of pride in my coaching. I don’t do a lot of things well, but I’d like to think I can coach a little bit and I haven’t done a very good job.”
“It’s been a hard week on my family. It was hard on my son. Last week he had to leave the gym because the fans were so hard on his dad.”
The coach then motioned in the direction of his son and noted pointedly “this was for them.” He continued by saying “I got a loyal family. It’s very loyal to me.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Turgeon’s postgame press conference was his simplistic “I wanted to beat Duke” statement (which every Maryland fan everywhere echoes at just about all times), but the story about his son was clearly the most emotional.
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