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Maryland 79, Duke 72: The ACC Title Belt Goes to the Terps... For Now

Well its always hard to come up on the short end of the stick (right, Tar Heel fans?). But last night’s Duke/Maryland match-up was the kind of game the ACC has generally been lacking this season: two good teams slugging it out; momentum swings checked by gutty performances; role players stepping up and star players showing how they can shine. In the end the Terps made big plays down the stretch and the Devils were not able to counter punch. With all the pressure of a big game at home, on senior night, with ACC title in the balance you have to give Gary Williams’ team credit for “rising up to the challenge of (their) rivals” who had owned them the last few years. The crowd was amped and the home team definitely showed the Eye of the Tiger Terrapin. 

You never know if the buildup for a big game will lead to opening jitters or opening on fire. Duke opted for the former, missing their first 6 shots and 8 of their first 10. The Terps opted for the latter and came out the chute fast and hard, even maintaining intensity through a 10-minute delay while a net was being replaced. Thus, unsurprisingly, for much the first half the Devils looked like boxer who had been knocked down in the first round: trying in vain to mount some offense while mostly covering up to avoid the finishing blow. It seemed like we were in for a replay of the kind game Duke had at NC State or Georgetown: watching helplessly as the home team has a career-best game shooting the ball. Maryland was able to maintain a working margin of at least double digits for virtually the entire first half but went cold the last 5 minutes. Duke then got back into the game the in the way they will live or die this post-season, they made jump shots. The Big Three all chipped in to hit some big threes including Scheyers first make from beyond the arc with less than a minute to play to cut the lead to 2. It was a vintage true blue spurt to finish a half.

In the second half the ebb and flow of the game was much more even. Neither team came out of the break shooting the ball very well with both teams combining for only 13 points in the first six minutes of play. But the intensity was still there. It was the kind of half where you do a lot of shouting at the television. The kind of half that leaves you breathing heavy during time outs and looking at the clock saying “Man I can’t believe there are still 10 minutes left to go.” Maryland was able to neutralize Duke’s significant size advantage (which was [pardon the pun] huge in the first matchup in Cameron) through superior athleticism and quickness. The battle of the boards was fought to a draw, and for the game Duke’s 14 offensive boards were translated into only 6 second chance points.

There was a sequence midway through the half that I thought at the time might break the game open: tie game when Scheyer has a turnover that leads to a Maryland layup, Duke gets hosed by officials on a back court violation where there was clearly no possession after an offensive rebound, Maryland gets a dunk that reignites the antsy crowd, Duke gets a 2 and Maryland answers with a 3. Then the final kick in the balls was a terrible call for traveling on Scheyer that I really have no idea what the official saw. But the Terps couldn’t follow through - going scoreless for the next 4 minutes while Nolan Smith put on his Superman cape and put up 7 straight. The teams then traded shots, two heavyweights standing in the center of the ring in the 11th round pounding away at one another. But the last few minutes of the game Maryland made winning plays. Williams got huge offensive board and putback over Zoubek. Vasquez made a playground shot that illicited the tweet of the night: “Did Vasquez just call ‘H’ after that shot?” And the Terps didn’t miss a free throw. Duke, on the other hand, looked like they morphed into something they have not been all year - a selfish team that looked in panic on offense. They took some hurried shots that started to look a bit tired as they clanged off the front rim. Sad to say, but Jon Scheyer especially seemed to have been sucked in by the pre-game hype of going toe to toe with Greivis. He tried to make plays that weren’t there and took shots he didn’t need to take.

This was clearly the ACC’s best two heavyweights going at it, and while Duke may have been battered a little in this one they can take solace in the fact that they’ll be facing an opponent that’s clearly a bantam-level fighter at best on Sunday when they take on Carolina to close out the season at home. The next week and a half may tell us a lot about Duke as a team: whether or not they’re the prizefighter ranked where they should be, or the product of a weak conference that’s slowly taking a fall out of the national title picture. Lets just hope they channel the Terps knockdown and the beatings they’ve sustained from UNC the last four years as a bit of extra motivation to get up off the mat and keep swinging. 

A few final notes from the boxscore:

  • Duke 1st half 14-30 and 6-12 from 3; second half 11-33 and 4-15 from 3 - this team has to make shots
  • The Big 3 were 7-23 from distance overall
  • Maryland was 11/11 from free throw line in 2nd half and 89% for game. Duke was just 6-11 in second half FTs and missed at least one freebie every trip to the line cluding the front end of a 1-and-1
  • Maryland’s bench was 7-11 from the field, including Bowie going 4-4 (all in the 2nd half)
  • The Terps shot 50% for the game and Duke was just over 39%
  • Singler took zero shots in last 6 minutes and only 1 in last ten
  • Worth recalling our ACC POY prediction: whoever won this game deserved to win the award. Vasquez may have sealed the deal last night. Ugh.