You knew Sunday's game against Virginia was special. You knew that in a season where Maryland has found themselves on the wrong side of a close game numerous times that they couldn't let it happen again. Not in this game. Not against this team.
Sunday represented Maryland's last opportunity, in their last ACC season, to take down one of the conference's blue bloods, who just so happened to be one of the Terps' biggest rivals (at least before the ACC decided that Maryland's rich history with Pitt justified making the Panthers their new rival).
"Today just wasn't an ordinary game," head coach Mark Turgeon said following Sunday's win over Virginia. "You can tell by all of the cameras in here. You can tell by the fans. It was a lot of things: our last ACC game; our last regular season game; senior day; [and] playing a top five team in the country that already wrapped our league up, just a tremendous team."
Turgeon continued reflecting on the significance of Sunday's game, not just for his team, but for the pride of a Maryland program that has been repeatedly mocked and dragged through the mud across ACC country in this swan song of a season.
"We always play for Maryland, but today we played for former players, former coaches, all our fans," Turgeon said.
"It means a lot. It is more than us. It is the whole program of Maryland who is affected greatly by this," sophomore guard Seth Allen said following the win over UVA, in which he scored 20 points. "We've been in the ACC for a long time, so to go out like that with the court storming against the top team in the league, you can't ask for a better game."
Sunday's game was the win Maryland and their fans had been longing for all year. After beginning the season with a one point loss to Connecticut, Maryland lost by two points to both Duke and Syracuse, in double overtime to Clemson and battled on the road with Virginia, North Carolina and North Carolina State.
But in the end, the story was always the same; a loss. And when those losses came on the road, you just waited for the "A-C-C!" chants to begin from the home crowd. But after Sunday, Maryland showed they were capable of more than keeping up with the league's best team; they can beat them, too.
"We felt like we could play with anybody in our league, but today we feel like we can play with anybody in our league and beat them," Turgeon said. "There's a big difference."
Virginia coach Tony Bennett agreed, saying "Maryland's talented and they've been close, they've been really close in a lot of games and you could see it when they got going and we didn't have enough to pull away,"
But Maryland was almost unable to pull away. Up three after Jake Layman made a pair of free throws with just over four seconds remaining, Maryland elected to foul Virginia, sending them to the line and taking away their opportunity to attempt a game-tying three pointer.
"Guys, I don't ever foul. I don't ever foul," Turgeon said. "But it's been the strangest year I've ever been a part of and I did it backwards. I said well I'm going to do things backwards today because we haven't won any close games and I thought by fouling we'd win."
Virginia made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, which was tipped out of bounds by Maryland with just over two seconds remaining. The Cavs then ran a quick play to Anthony Gill that tied up Evan Smotrycz in a group of players, leaving Gill wide open to hit a quick put back that tied the game.
Maryland students, who had left their seats to line up and storm the court, lethargically and quietly returned to their seats, dejected by the possibility of yet another close loss. Maryland's players felt the same way.
"We were down," Turgeon said. "I was down. I was like, 'are you kidding me?' But all the stuff we've been through made us really tough. It's made us a lot tougher. It's going to help us in the future. But I told our guys, I said 'guys, that's on me.' I said 'I never, never foul, but I did. You didn't get the rebound but I called the foul.' I said 'let's make this the best five minutes of the year.' They didn't believe me the first time I said it but I probably said it fifteen times during that timeout. 'Let's make this the best five minutes of our year,' and I think we did. I thought we were tremendous in the overtime."
But for the first time all season, Maryland was determined to not let another close game slip away. Not against Virginia. Not in their last regular season ACC game. Not during the final ACC game played at the Comcast Center, with Gary Williams, Lefty Driesell, Tom McMillen and other Maryland legends in attendance.
"We had extra motivation," junior Dez Wells said following the win. "Steve Francis was here, we have Juan [Dixon] on our bench, Walt Williams, Gary Williams; all those great players and legends from this University. They were here so we had that extra motivation to go out there and do a good job. With all that being said, and the crowd being in the game and us talking how we did before and after the game, we knew what we had to do. We had a chance to win before overtime, but when we came back in the huddle we said, we're not letting this go, we had too many games this year decided by a couple of points so we have to go out here and take this win."
"It'd have been devastating if we lost another one," Turgeon said. "Clemson was about as devastating as it gets. We had to walk up three flights of stairs and it felt like 100 after that game."
After so many missed opportunities all season, Maryland finished a game with no sense of devastation as the final horn sounded. Frowns of frustration were instead smiles of joy. For the first time all year, Maryland was able to beat an elite team in a close game. It just happened to occur in their final ACC game in College Park.