If organizers of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge have any brains, they'll do everything they can to persuade Maryland and Duke to square off in the event as often as possible.
An occasional early-December game will never match the fun of watching the Terps and Blue Devils slug it out for ACC bragging rights, but a rivalry this consistently entertaining is worth preserving in some form.
The final edition of Maryland-Duke as an ACC rivalry provided one last reminder of what college basketball is losing when the Terps leave for the Big Ten this summer. A raucous crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium watched a back-and-forth game come down to the final seconds before the host Blue Devils escaped with a 69-67 victory.
Maryland had a chance to take the lead on its final two possessions after Jabari Parker's driving one-handed tomahawk dunk put Duke in front by one with 1:19 to go.
Dez Wells was off target with a contested jump shot with 56 seconds to go on the first possession. The second one was far more dramatic as Charles Mitchell got a favorable matchup in the post with smaller Rodney Hood guarding him but his hook shot with two seconds remaining hung tantalizingly on the rim before somehow rimming out.
The loss for Maryland had to be doubly heartbreaking both because of the rivalry and the implications for its season. The Terps desperately needed a huge victory to revive hope of a late push for an NCAA tournament bid, but at 14-12 overall and 6-7 in the ACC, it seems almost impossible to imagine Maryland making such a run anymore.
If the mediocrity of the Terps made this matchup less anticipated than some of the classics from years past, the atmosphere in Durham helped make up for it.
Duke students brought back the classic Gary Williams-themed "Sweat, Gary, Sweat" chant after his successor Mark Turgeon picked up a technical foul arguing a call with 6:58 to go in the first half. They also waived "See Ya" banners and chanted "ACC, ACC, ACC" after the Devils clinched the game in the closing seconds.
It looked like the Cameron Crazies wouldn't have to wait so long to gloat until Wells caught fire in the second half and made sure there would be an exciting finish. Maryland's leading scorer delivered all 17 of his points in the second half to rally the Terps from a six-point halftime deficit.
Though the close finish might not have been what Duke expected in a home game against a mid-tier ACC opponent, one encouraging aspect was that the Devils managed to win in a game where they shot poorly from behind the arc. The Duke team that struggled on defense in November and December never would have won shooting 33.8 percent from the floor and 5 of 24 from behind the arc.
Credit the Devils for their improvement defensively and credit the Terps for their effort to try to win in a hostile environment.
It made for a fun last installment to a rivalry that hopefully isn't quite dead yet.
- Sports & Recreation