Terps down Duke in statement win

Terps down Duke in statement win
March 16, 2013, 9:00 am
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It wasn’t so much a game that the Duke Blue Devils lost as it was a game the Maryland Terrapins won.

The Terps were playing a team that – by any statistical metric or measure- has been in the top five in the nation all season long in a coliseum and a tournament that they have absolutely owned. They were playing a rested and ready Duke team while they themselves had to battle a gritty Wake Forest team to the wire just to advance to play the Devils.

When the dust settled at the end of the game, the Terps had authored a convincing, wire-to-wire 83-74 win over the second seed to advance to the semifinals of the ACC tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Fittingly, next up for Maryland is more Tobacco Road royalty. They will play third seeded North Carolina on national television on Saturday afternoon.

There had been something in the air all day in the Greensboro Coliseum. In the first game of the day, top seeded Miami had been pushed to the limit by a superlative effort by Boston College. In the second game, North Carolina State completely dominated higher seeded Virginia.

That said, nothing could have prepared the 20,000 plus fans in attendance for what they were about to see.

Duke fans in attendance could easily have accounted for about a quarter of all the seats sold for the evening session and there might have been a couple thousand Maryland fans there to support their team. The rest of the building sat watching the game and began to warm to what they were seeing. As much as they enjoyed rooting for Maryland (I’m not sure if they were so much rooting for the Terps as they were rooting for anybody that Duke would have been playing at that point), they all seemed to be waiting for the Duke run that would give them the lead at some point.

It never happened.

Even when Duke was able to string together a few baskets in the second half in an attempt to seize a lead of any kind, the Terps always had an answer.

When the Devils had pared the lead to a single point at 45-44 at the 13 minute mark in the second half, the Terps responded with an impressive 17-6 run that did more than give them a cushion, it completely took the air out of the Duke balloon and made about 10,000 fans in the building Terp fans for a day.

Prior to the game, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon openly told anybody who would listen that he thought his team matched up with Duke better than anybody in the conference. Perhaps he said it in an effort to convince himself and his team that they were up to the task against a team that had won nine consecutive ACC tournament games in the coliseum. Then again, perhaps he said it as a result of Maryland’s heart-stopping win over Duke last month at Comcast Center.

Whatever the motivation, his team wasn’t just bigger and stronger and faster in this game. They were also better.

Sophomore guard Dez Wells threw in a career high 30 points against a variety of Duke defenders. He entered the game on a complete tear in the last two weeks. By the time he walked off the court he was the talk of the tournament and the toast of Greensboro. Wells scored his 30 points on just 13 field goal attempts. He made both of his three point attempts and shot a “completely close the door” 10-10 from the free throw line that kept the stretch of the game virtually drama free.

Turgeon also deserves credit himself for eschewing his traditional big lineup in favor a more stealthy four guard attack that kept Duke off balance and forced a defensive mismatch for Duke forward Ryan Kelly. Duke had been undefeated on the season when Kelly was in the lineup but has still only been back and playing for two weeks and it became apparent that he was not in the kind of defensive shape or rhythm to find a Maryland player he could actually cover. With the game on the line in the second half, Kelly found himself squarely on the Duke bench.

Next up for the Terps are the Tar Heels. North Carolina hip-pocketed Maryland in both meetings this season but, somehow, this weekend feels different. In a tournament whose history is filled with stories of unlikely individual and collective team heroics, the Terps appear poised to find their own spot in tournament lore.