Dez Wells was well on his way to being a legend in College Park.
Maryland’s star guard had taken over late in the second half as the Terps made their final trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium as a member of the ACC. For all we know, it may be the final installment of the rivalry if the folks that plan the matchups for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge decide not to make the obvious decision to force the two teams to play.
That’s what made Wells’ second half so impressive.
He took over down the stretch scoring 15 of his 17 points in the second half, capped off by a three with just over a minute left that game the Terps a 67-64 lead. No. 8 Duke would score the next two buckets, giving them a 68-67 lead on the final possession.
Maryland had the ball, with just over seven seconds left on their baseline. Charles Mitchell, who had been overpowering everyone Mike Krzyzewski threw at him in the post, got the ball about 12 feet from the rim. He came across the middle of the lane, faked the spin over his right shoulder and put up a jump-hook with his right hand that hit the rim … then hit the back board … then hung on the front of the rim before finally falling harmlessly into the arms of Amile Jefferson.
If this is, indeed, the end of this rivalry, it could not have ended in a more fitting manner. An overmatched Maryland team, fighting and scrapping for their tournament lives, giving a Duke team chock-full of all-americans and Final Four expectations everything they can handle, the game being decided by the way that the ball happened to fall off the rim.
It was everything you could ask for in a basketball game. Raucous environment, great individual performances, two teams leaving everything they had on the floor, a national television audience, a thrilling finish.
That moment when Mitchell’s shot hung on the rim? That is what makes college basketball great. Maryland’s season is more or less boiled down to whether or not they’ll have a chance to lose in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament or if they’ll be banished to the NIT. In other words, they aren’t going to be contending for ACC titles or National Championships. They just want a chance to play on March’s biggest stage.
In order to do so, they needed to beat their biggest rival on the road.
That shot from Mitchell? That ball’s momentum carrying it away from the basket instead of into the basket? Not only did it cost the Terps their best chance to salvage what has been a disastrous season to date, but it would have given them bragging rights for … well, for eternity as far as we know.
Instead, Maryland fans can now look forward to trying to earn a home game in the NIT and their future league matchups with the likes of Purdue, Nebraska and Rutgers.
Coach K has already said he won’t play Maryland in the non-conference. To him, this rivalry is dead.
If only the people whose dollars fueled realignment had a way to force these two to play every season.