COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — As a parting gift to Maryland, the Atlantic Coast Conference left the Terrapins’ home schedule devoid of games against North Carolina or Duke.
So the first sellout of the season at Comcast Center on Monday night will be against ACC newcomer Syracuse, a matchup that lost a bit of its luster after the previously unbeaten Orange lost two straight last week.
“Yeah, but there’s still a lot of hype around the game,” Maryland forward Jake Layman said Sunday. “It’s still huge for us.”
It’s been a strange final ACC season for Maryland (15-12, 7-7) before it leaves for the Big Ten.
With traditional rivals Duke and North Carolina off the table, the highlight of a tepid home schedule is this duel with Syracuse, a team the Terrapins have not faced since 2008.
“We’ve played a lot of top teams this year. We haven’t played many of them at home,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “Maybe Pittsburgh. They came in and got us when they were playing at a high level and we were just trying to find ourselves. Now we’re playing better and facing a top team, so maybe we can take advantage of it.”
The 83-79 loss to Pittsburgh, another ACC newcomer, was as close as Maryland has come to drawing a sellout crowd at home.
Only 10,665 showed up for the Terrapins’ previous game, a 71-60 win over visiting Wake Forest last Tuesday night, but Comcast Center should be rocking when the Orange come calling in a nationally televised contest.
“It will be nice to have a nice crowd. I think our team deserves it,” Turgeon said. “We continue to get better, and you’ve got a team that was ranked No. 1. They won’t be No. 1 when they come in here, but it’s a heck of a basketball team with great players.”
Maryland has won four of its past seven, but two of those defeats were tight ones at Virginia and Duke. The Terrapins need a late run to get into the NCAA tournament, and beating Syracuse (25-2, 12-2) would serve as a signature victory for a team that needs to make up for earlier losses to Oregon State and Boston University.
The Terps are well rested compared to the Orange, who lost in overtime to Boston College on Wednesday before falling at Duke on Saturday night.
“It’s tough in the ACC because you’re playing really good teams,” Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney said. “We have to come ready to play. We’re not tired or anything like that. Our legs are ready, but we just have to be prepared.”
In the final minute of the loss to Duke, Orange coach Jim Boeheim charged the court in rage after a key foul went against Syracuse. After he calmed down quite a bit, Boeheim stressed that this game is as significant to the Orange as it is for Maryland.
“This end of the year is important,” Boeheim said. “We knew the end of the year would be hard for us, and that’s fine. These games help you. … We’ve learned a lot and we’ll learn a lot more. We know how tough our next few games are.”
The Terrapins close out their final ACC slate by playing at home four times over a five-game span. The run started against Wake Forest, and if all goes as planned Monday night, perhaps the fans at Comcast Center will engage in an old Maryland tradition: Storming the court after a landmark victory.
That would surely have happened if Syracuse was still atop the national rankings going into the game.
Asked if he wished the Orange were 27-0 and No. 1, Terps guard Nick Faust immediately responded, “Yes. I really wish they were still undefeated. It brings more of a buzz.”
That doesn’t make this encounter any less meaningful for a squad lingering around the middle of the ACC standings.
“It’s a big game for us, a big game for the university, a big game for the program,” Faust said. “Everything is on the line for this one. We’re really looking forward to it. It’s kind of a must-win.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)