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Annual Hoya-Terps matchup would be worth the challenges

terpshoyasBy DERON SNYDER

For the rivalry’s sake and the prospects for its continuance, a split would’ve been much better. Instead, the reward for Georgetown coach John Thompson III agreeing to renew the intra-DMV clash with Maryland is two losses by a combined five points.

Here’s hoping he isn’t dissuaded from doing his part to make Hoyas-Terrapins an annual affair.

Tuesday’s game perfectly demonstrated one reason Thompson might be averse. Georgetown was the home team, but Maryland’s fans were louder by the end of the game. With a student body twice as large – and an alumni base that’s presumably just as disproportionate – Maryland is unlike typical visitors the Hoyas host in downtown D.C.

While Verizon Center doesn’t become a hostile environment for Georgetown when Maryland is in the building, it’s not much better than a neutral site, either. Certainly it doesn’t compare to the Terps’ home court advantage when they host the Hoyas at Xfinity Center on the College Park campus.

The Hoyas could’ve been on the road Tuesday as they blew a nine-point lead in the final 2:21. Half the crowd (or more) wouldn’t cheer wildly if Georgetown melted down against an out-of-town, non-conference foe early in the season. But that’s what happened as Maryland cut into the margin and eventually went ahead on Melo Trimble’s free throws with seven seconds remaining.

This is the second consecutive “Maryland at Georgetown” contest that ended with a one-point victory in a building the Washington Wizards call home. Granted, the last one was in 1993, when the Terps won on Duane Simpkins’ last-second shot in overtime at the USAir Arena. But 2016 might have the same effect on JT3’s taste for the rivalry as 1993 had on his father, Big John, who never scheduled Maryland again.

“I loved the arena at the end,” Terps coach Mark Turgeon told reporters Tuesday night. “‘Let’s go Maryland, let’s go Georgetown’ – I thought that was really cool.”

Already hesitant to put the rivalry on par with the annual Crosstown Shootout between Cincinnati and Xavier, schools just three miles apart, Thompson could be less eager now. Especially since it likely costs Georgetown a less-challenging home game.

“I told you, a couple of weeks ago, that in a perfect world we wouldn’t have this game right here this early in the year,” he told reporters after the 76-75 defeat.

Would he like to see the rivalry continue? “Mark and I will talk,” JT3 said. “We’ll see.”

Turgeon noted that “we’ve been on the lucky side the last two years. At the eight-minute timeout, both years they’ve been up six or eight and we’ve been able somehow to win the game.”

Would he like to make the matchup a regular occurrence? “I think it’s been great for the area,” Turgeon said. “It’s been fantastic. … JT and I, whatever we talk about, it’s going to be in private, and we’ll do that in the future I’m sure.”

At the very least, they should re-up for the just-concluded home-and-home as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games, which pits Big Ten and Big East teams.

The inter-conference series is scheduled to be played annually the first week of each season until 2022. If Thompson and Turgeon don’t want their teams to knock heads another six times, a couple more shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Coaches’ reluctance to face a steak instead of a cupcake this early is becoming passé. November tournaments routinely present a smorgasbord of heavyweights doing battle. Tuesday featured No. 1 Duke vs. No. 7 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classic. No. 3 Villanova and No. 15 Purdue squared off Monday in a Gavitt Tipoff clash. Top 25 teams Rhode Island and Cincinnati play each other this weekend in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tipoff.

Granted, Maryland-Georgetown has more emotional juice than your average non-conference game between traditional powers. They might not be in the midst of simultaneous upswings each time they play – in fact, Tuesday marked the first time since 1970 neither program was ranked entering a meeting – but being just 20 miles apart ratchets up the intensity to conference-rival levels.

Bitter rivals like Georgetown-Syracuse (and Maryland-Duke in the old ACC days) typically don’t play until the end of December or later. When you add proximity to emotion – like Cincinnati-Xavier – showdowns can be pushed back even further: Two seasons ago, the Bearcats and Musketeers met on Feb. 18.

Ideally, as Thompson said, Terps-Hoyas wouldn’t be a fixture every year before the season barely gets underway. The Gavitt games have been a great vehicle to resurrect the contest but the coaches should take over from here, even though Verizon Center works a bit against Georgetown in a home-and-home situation.

This rivalry should become a non-negotiable part of each school’s annual schedule. The impact on college basketball in this area is too great to bypass. “That’s down the road,” Turgeon said about possibly continuing the series.

Fine. Just make sure the road doesn’t end short of the mark.

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