When Mark Turgeon first stepped on campus almost three years ago, the Terrapins men’s basketball coach knew there was something different about the Duke game.

Maybe it was the variety of shirts emblazoned with colorful slogans about the Blue Devils students proudly wore. Or maybe it was watching those legendary contests in the early 2000s, with both teams trading blows game-in and game-out.

Either way, Turgeon knows the stakes of Saturday’s ACC finale at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. And he’s not skirting around the significance of it.

“Well, this game means a lot to a lot of people, so we’re not just trying to treat this just as another game,” Turgeon said Friday. “It’s Duke, so we’re excited to play the game. Duke’s one of the best teams in our league. They’re probably playing the best in our league right now. It’s a big game, but we also know what this game means to Maryland and what it represents to our fanbase.”

Turgeon’s candor was refreshing. Too often we’re treated to coaches dismissing the hype with an exhausted trope of how every game means the same in the standings at the end of the season. Sure, that’s 100 percent true, but it dismisses the emotional aspect of the game, how one win can lift the spirits of a whole.

Turgeon knows that if the Terps head back from Durham, N.C., late Saturday night as victors, there’ll be thousands of revelers flooding out of North Campus dorms, out of South Campus Commons and out of the bars to celebrate on Route 1.

And he knows that if the Terps lose, it’ll be another nail in the coffin of the Terps’ ACC existence from the team’s North Carolina farewell tour, which already features an ugly collapse at N.C. State and against the Tar Heels.

So in both the four-month arc of the season and the 60-year arc of the ACC, the importance is impossible to gloss over.

“You’ve had a lot of great history because it’s two good programs,” Turgeon said. “We understand that. We’re trying to represent a lot of past coaches and past players in a way that they need to be represented tomorrow night. Our guys know that.”

It’s trickled down to his players. Guard Nick Faust was former coach Gary Williams’ final recruit, and he grew up in the area watching the two teams battle in the early 2000s — as a Duke fan.

And he recognizes how far beyond the baselines and sidelines of the basketball court this matchup reaches.

“It’s a big game for us,” Faust said. “Every game is a big game, but this is big for the school.”

Guard Dez Wells, a Raleigh, N.C., native, also grew up a Duke fan around the time the rivalry peaked with the likes of Duke’s Jay Williams and Shane Battier squaring off with now-special assistant Juan Dixon and Steve Blake. Aside from Dixon’s wide-open shot selection, he remembers never really being that upset, since Duke usually held the upper-hand in the contests.

And while Wells said he’s trying to treat it like another game with NCAA tournament implications, he’s enough of a student of the game that he knows it isn’t. He’s devoured Terps history since transferring to College Park, so he knows what’s at stake. He even said he’s watched the 2001 Final Four matchup between the two teams “100 times” since joining the Terps.

For Dixon, Saturday’s tilt in Durham is a walk down memory lane, except this time he’ll be taking it in from the bench instead of on the court. At some point, he’ll speak to the team about the rivalry and what it means, even though most of the Terps know already. For anyone in College Park, it’s hard to miss.

“Intense basketball games, two great basketball coaches preparing their teams extremely well and 30 competitive kids going at it for 40 minutes,” Dixon said. “I have a lot of great memories. I’m very fortunate to have been a part of those classic games in the past and hopefully we can have another one tomorrow.”

The final chapter in the rivalry will probably be written tomorrow, barring a meeting in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. As the series record shows, it’s been one-sided in Duke’s favor, though the Terps have bested the Blue Devils the last two times they’ve played.

And Turgeon’s right to treat this game differently. The Terps will have the nation’s eyes on ESPN at 6 p.m. Alums and casual fans, future students and parents, everyone will be watching to see the two teams try to recapture the intensity and magic of the early 2000s.

Sure, it might unlikely, with Duke — 13-point favorites — hitting its stride behind freshman sensation Jabari Parker and the Terps scuffling through a .500 season in the ACC.

But the Terps were always underdogs to the Blue Devils, one of the country’s most prestigious programs and a college basketball blueblood. Wells said the Terps need to play like Dixon and his teammates did if they want to knock off Duke, with an unmatchable, hard-nosed intensity.

Then maybe — in the biggest game of the season so far — they can leave Cameron Indoor Stadium with a victory.

It’s not just another game.

“It’s a tough place to play,” Wells said. “But anything’s possible.”