COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Sixty-one years of heated rivalries, heartbreaking defeats and unforgettable victories will come to an end Sunday for Maryland when the Terrapins play their final home game as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Before moving to the Big Ten next season, Maryland (17-14, 8-9) still has work to do in the ACC. With a victory over No. 5 Virginia in the regular-season finale, the Terps will finish .500 in league play and perhaps generate some momentum for the ACC tournament.
Just as important, a win would add flair to what promises to be an emotional afternoon. Former coaches Gary Williams and Lefty Driesell will be in attendance, and one-time stars Juan Dixon, Tom McMillen and Walt Williams will sign autographs beforehand for many in the sellout crowd.
"It will be a great atmosphere, especially for our fans," said Dixon, a member of the 2002 national championship team and now an assistant coach at Maryland. "We had such an amazing run in the ACC with so many memorable moments. We want to finish up the regular season on a strong note, and we have an opportunity to thank all of our fans and alumni for all of their support over the last 61 years."
Current coach Mark Turgeon has the responsibility of taking the team through its final ACC season and, months from now, guiding the Terrapins into a new era.
"You could look at it like, 'Oh, why do I have to go through this?' or you can look at it like, 'What an honor for me to coach in the last ACC season,'" Turgeon said after Saturday's practice. "Give the ACC credit, giving us Virginia, our last home game instead of being on the road. But the last day of the season to have this game, I feel honored to be a part of it. I feel honored to be part of a move to the Big Ten, too."
The players knew for weeks that this wouldn't be just another game, and that point was hammered home Saturday. On the wall of seats beyond one of the baskets, placards were arranged so that a huge No. 61 was in red within a white backdrop. Free red shirts commemorating the event were placed on the lower-bowl seats.
"It's pretty cool," junior forward Evan Smotrycz said. "There's lot of history with Maryland in the ACC, and hopefully we can finish it off the right way."
Since becoming a charter member of the ACC in 1953, the Terrapins have earned five regular-season league titles and won the ACC tournament three times. They are 447-435 overall, including 106-74 against Virginia.
There have been countless memorable clashes with Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State. The footage of Driesell stomping his foot in front of the visitor's bench at Chapel Hill and Gary Williams sweating through his suit at Cameron Indoor Stadium are part of college basketball lore.
And now, it's about to come to an end — with more than just a little fanfare.
"Obviously, by the ticket sales being swallowed up hopefully by all Maryland fans, it shows you that it means a lot to our fans," Turgeon said. "Practicing in this arena today with all this stuff in here lets our players know that it's a pretty important game. One, because we're playing Virginia who's a rival and two, they're fifth in the country and won our league. Three, it's our last regular-season ACC game in 61 years. I just hope we play well. That's really what I want."
Maryland center Charles Mitchell, who was kicked off the bench in Tuesday's win over Virginia Tech for unspecified disciplinary reasons, will be back with the team Sunday.
"He paid his dues," said Turgeon, who needs every player on board against a Virginia team that has won 13 straight since Jan. 13.
"If we could beat them the last home ACC game that would be huge," Smotrycz said.
It will be the final home game for seldom-used forward John Auslander, the only senior on the team. That won't be the farewell on everyone's mind.
"All the tradition of Duke-Maryland, North Carolina-Maryland, Virginia-Maryland, it's going to be tough not having those games," Auslander said. "But we'll develop new rivalries with the Big Ten. Those are some big venues and big programs as well."