Now that was a great win.
Coming off one of their worst losses in the last 15 years, the Blue Devils marched into the most inimical and hostile of environments on Wednesday and pretty much just bitch-slapped the Terrapins and their projectile throwing, racist and gay slur hurling ( or ‘slurling’ , if you will), self-immolating, marginally literate crowd into a sweet, sweet silence.
There was no small amount of nerves from a Duke fan perspective going in to this one, as we waited to see how our team would respond to the St. John’s debacle against a team that, regardless of how they are playing otherwise, always gets hyper-motivated to hand Duke a loss (and has as good a recent history of doing that as anyone in the ACC.) Did the St.John’s game expose weaknesses that the Terps would continue to exploit ? Was our collective team psyche damaged enough that a second difficult road game would prove too tough to overcome? Would the Devils seeming penchant for playing sub-par basketball against tough teams on the road ( FSU, St. J’s) officially become a pattern? Nope, nope and nope.
Thankfully, Duke did not come out of the gates slowly in this one, as has been their habit of late. They made an immediate effort to establish a low - post presence by feeding Mason the ball and were rewarded with two early buckets from the offensively slumbering big man. That , and an aggressive start from Kyle led to 5 buckets in their first 7 posessions. The Terps kept pace, riding the back of ACC - POY candidate Jordan Williams, who scored 8 of UMD’s first 13 points. Maryland took a 16-15 lead at the 11:26 mark at which point two things occurred. First, Duke stepped things up defensively, holding the Terps to just 3 points over the next 4 plus minutes. Offensively, they stayed hot and used the Kyle- Mason- Nolan combo to build a six point advantage and then back-back threes from Curry/Thornton to push it out to ten. Second, Duke began, as a result of said aggressive defensive play, to find themselves in some rather serious foul trouble. At the 7:30 mark both Nolan and Ryan went to the bench with 2 and 3 fouls.They were followed shortly by Kyle who committed his second foul a minute later. This left the Devils with a lineup that would only strike fear into the hearts of those who were previously confident that Duke would take a lead into the locker room: Thornton, Curry, Dawkins, Plumlee and Plumlee. These fears would prove sorely misplaced, however, as ‘all’ this lineup managed to do was hold Maryland to five points over the next four minutes and push the Duke lead up to 14 with two minutes left. They came back to earth a bit, as Maryland finished the half on a 9-2 run, but acquitted themselves more than admirably. Nolan and Kyle played only 8 and 14 minutes, respectively, in the half and the Devils still went to halftime with a 40-33 lead. I’ll take that any old day.
Similarly to the start of the first half, Duke avoided their recent second half start malaise and came out in attack mode. While this meant a 7-2 run over the first four minutes, it also meant 5 more Devil fouls, including Nolan’s and Kyle’s 3rd. Duke then turned to Kyle Singler, who proceeded to have his most impressive offensive stretch of the season as he scored 9 points in 2 minutes on 4 straight posessions. (Three of those shots were 15 foot jump shots curling around screens. It’s the type of shot that Kyle has excelled at his entire career and the type that , up until the last two games, has been largely absent. I was thrilled to see him look for his points with these rather than the set-shot from 3. ) Maryland would not be cowed, however, and answered with scores on 4 straight posessions as part of an 11-2 run that cut Duke’s lead to a mere 5 points at 56-51 with 8 minutes left. The Maryland crowd, kept under wraps for the majority of the contest, smelled blood in the water, but Mason staunched the flow with a rageful dunk along the baseline and Andre closed the wound completely with two HUGE, back-to -back threes. ( man, where has THAT been?) Maryland pushed us and we pushed right back to make it a 64-53 game with 6:22 left. The story of the final minutes can be summed up on the offensive end by Nolan’s athletic and impeccable execution of stallball ( or, as I now like to call it, Sucking Clock… you heard it here first, but not last!) ; as he got to the rim in JWill-like fashion as the shot clock waned, and on the other end by a Maryland team that went suddenly cold ( 2 of their last 10 from the field and 4-8 from the line). The final score was largest margin of the game and not entirely indicative of how well-contested it was, though Duke did only trail for a total of 40 seconds.
There was just a whole lot of good to take away from this one: 1) Mason’s involvement in the offense and his finishing at the rim ( though his epic free-throw shooting struggles are giving us no room to make fun of John Henson any more) 2)Kyle’s production from inside the 3-point line 3) Nolan’s end-of-game ball management 4) The play of the bench ( logging 47 minutes and outscoring UMD’s bench 22-15) 5) Our masterful handling of Maryland’s press ( only 8 TOs against a defense that turns their opponents over 15 times a game) 6) Our defense, which was at least a step slow for the entire St. John’s game, got things turned around a bit and held the Terps to 20-50 from the floor and ( more importantly) did not simply stand in a receiving line to cheerily offer them the use of the basket for the pupose of uncontested layups, as they seemed to do against the last team we played…
who was that again? i can barely recall… Ah, well !