DURHAM, N.C. -- By the time they arrived here for last year's game against Duke, the freshmen on the University of Maryland basketball team had heard from the seniors all the horror stories about playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The upperclassmen did too good a job preparing them.
"Kevin McLinton and Evers Burns told us what to expect from the crowd," recalled sophomore forward Exree Hipp. "But we were so worried about the crowd that we forgot about the game. When they started counting my dribbles, I was listening to them instead of doing what I was supposed to."
When Maryland (12-3, 5-1) enters Duke's home court for today's first-place showdown in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the players will be trying to concentrate on the second-ranked Blue Devils (14-1, 5-1) instead of their rowdy fans.
And Maryland coach Gary Williams, aware of what happened here a year ago, has made sure that the sophomores don't pass too many tales of doom from last year's 95-79 loss onto this year's freshmen, Keith Booth and Joe Smith.
"We don't want them to plant any seeds," Williams said yesterday. "Right now things are very positive. And this team is different than last year's. They're very confident in themselves."
Not that Booth, who was recruited by Duke and has been part of the crowd, or Smith, whom the Blue Devils wished they had recruited, will be intimidated by the din of what may be the most raucous major college arena in the country.
In helping 18th-ranked Maryland to its best ACC start in 14 years, including a four-game ACC winning streak and a 2-0 road record in the conference, Booth and Smith have proved to be oblivious to the fact that they are performing in one of the country's most competitive leagues.
"I don't know if they realize what they're doing," Clemson coach Cliff Ellis said in admiration after his Tigers lost to Maryland, 73-53, Wednesday at Cole Field House.
The Terps seem to be coming here with the right mind set: They have nothing to lose but a couple of spots in the Top 25 poll and everything to gain, including first place in the ACC. That Maryland hasn't beaten Duke during a stretch of 13 games and six years makes this year's team think it might be due.
"We're not scared of anything," said sophomore point guard Duane Simpkins, whose recent streak of eight straight double-figure scoring games has coincided with Maryland's sudden rise in the national polls. "We're looking at it as an opportunity."
Said Booth: "I think it's going to be a lot of fun, to go down to Duke to play them on national television. Their crowd is like the sixth man. I think if we can get out to a fast start, we can take their fans out of the game."
There was a big-game atmosphere outside, and inside, Cameron Indoor Stadium yesterday. Students had started to pitch tents for their stay last night. The Blue Devils, coming off a shaky 74-72 win here over Notre Dame Wednesday night, know they will have to play better today in order to prevent the upset.
"The thing you notice is that you have five players working hard and together," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils have "I think if we can get out to a fast start, we can take their fans out of the game.
Said sophomore guard Chris Collins: "I look at it as a big test for us. They're a young team, but they've already gotten a taste of success and they're hungry to prove to the nation that they're for real. No one around here thinks it's going to be easy."
One more thing: The last time Maryland beat Duke, the Terps had a freshman center, Brian Williams, who was something of a phenom. And he was no Joe Smith. Will history repeat itself today?