Well, I was wrong: it wasn't a close game after all. Duke got 22 and 21 points out of Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, respectively, to overcome a Jordan Williams double-double and defeat Maryland in the Comcast Center, 80-62. In truth, the game was much closer, as Maryland had the lead as small as five more than midway through the second half, but the result is the only thing that matters.
Maryland is now dropped to 14-8 overall and 4-4 in the ACC. The Terrapins will likely need a deep run in the ACC tournament or 11 ACC wins (or both) to sneak into the NCAA tournament, the latter of which would require a 7-1 finish to conference play.
It's particularly depressing for two reasons: first, Maryland missed their final chance at a premier victory, which is utterly demoralizing considering they've come close several times. Secondly, Maryland looked out of their league in many ways tonight. That's confusing, because they most definitely looked like they did belong in the last game at Cameron Indoor. I expected the Terrapins to go toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils tonight, and despite some nice runs, they definitely didn't. That, perhaps more than anything else, is a big downer.
The game was relatively close for the first ten minutes or so, but Duke went on a 13-3 run to stretch the lead to 15. Just as the game seemed to be getting away from the Terrapins, Maryland fought their way back in. Cliff Tucker hit a layup at the buzzer to cap a 10-2 run, cutting the halftime lead to 7.
Duke wasted little time in building the margin back up, riding Kyle Singler to a 14-point margin just minutes into the second half. Maryland answered with an 11-2 run, but their momentum was stymied by a controversial (read: blown) charge call and a few empty possessions in which they ignored Jordan Williams. Andre Dawkins answered with two consecutive three-pointers, Maryland's perimeter defense collapsed, and Duke pulled away.
The biggest culprit of the loss was perimeter play, on both sides of the court. Offensively, Maryland scored an absurd amount of their points from the foul line and inside the paint. Against GT, they had a grand total of one made jumpshot. It was more than that today - they hit two three-pointers, after all - but I'd be surprised if the increase was substantial. Maryland had minimal presence on the perimeter, and that meant that any possession Jordan Williams didn't touch the ball was most likely a lost possession. Perhaps even more absurdly, everyone on Maryland missed a bevy of layups, many of which halted Maryland's momentum. They got the looks; they just didn't convert.
Defensively, the amount of open shots Duke had was heinous. I don't know how many open looks Dawkins, Smith, and Seth Curry got, but I know it was more than you can up to Duke and expect a chance at winning. St. John's exposed Duke's guard play just last weekend with constant ball pressure and sticking with their shooters; Maryland did neither, and Duke profited from it massively.
It will be popular for some to talk about the officiating, but that's a misplaced focus. The charge call on Stoglin was the only one that really looked "blown" - there were questionable calls outside of that, sure, but they were understandable. Besides, the refs had little to do with the fact that Maryland missed layups and poor defense on the perimeter. This loss was Maryland's and Maryland's alone.
To expand upon the outside shooting stuff: after going 407 straight games with a 3, Maryland went 65:45 in game time without a trey. Cliff Tucker and Haukur Palsson both hit a three in the second half, but Maryland was 2-9 on the day. Meanwhile, Duke hit ten threes. That's a huge deficit to make up elsewhere, and Maryland couldn't do it. It's an inherent flaw of this team, and it has been for some time.
Even some of Maryland's positives were dampened. It looked like Maryland finally figured out the free throw shooting bug, shooting 13-15 in the first half from the stripe. Then, during and after their final run, they missed 5 of 7. It's enough to make you temper your positivity around something that seemed undeniably good at halftime.
Still, it was an improvement. Maryland was an extremely respectable 20-27 from the line, including a shocking 12-16 from Jordan Williams. Over the past two games, Maryland's hit 44-59 from the line; that's 75%, well up from the season average of 63%. Williams' increased rate - 71% - is significantly upgraded from his usual 52%, and that's a big reason why Maryland's seen the increase. This was the culprit of most of Maryland's early season losses, so if this keeps up, their ceiling has likely raised quite a bit.
As far as individual performances go, the most noteworthy was Sean Mosley's, whose rebirth was short-lived. He finally looked like he was getting his game back against Georgia Tech, but was pretty much invisible tonight. Actually, "invisible" would imply that he didn't miss layups and open shots, which would be wrong. I'm one of the few guys that likes Mosley around here, and I think he brings a lot to the table. But he's an offensive liability, especially in big games, and you're seeing it reflected in his playing time: he received only 18 minutes today, the first time since the Villanova game that he had fewer than 20.
Not a ton else was notable; Jordan Williams was Jordan Williams (20 and 10, as is to be expected), and Adrian Bowie was the only other double-figures scorer (11 points). As far as the point guard stuff goes: I know that this is an unpopular opinion, but I still think both Pe'Shon Howard nor Terrell Stoglin have crazy amounts of promise. Today didn't show it, but if you're expecting three-star point guards to look good against Duke, you need to temper your expectations. With proper seasoning, both look like great four-year players: neither gets flustered on the ball, both have great court vision, and Howard runs the break extremely well. Neither is the immediate answer we hoped for, but expecting them to be was probably setting yourself up for failure.
As for where Maryland goes for here, well, I'd like to see some more playing time for Cliff Tucker, if only because he's Maryland's only chance at getting a shooter on the floor. But other than that, there's not a lot of ways for Maryland to address their faults: they are what they are right now. Against average ACC teams, that'll be enough. Against good ones, it probably won't be. They don't need to run the table in the ACC, but they'll need to come close to and grab a win or two in the ACCT to have a legitimate resume.
One thing to keep in mind: it was Duke, and they were amped up and focused after the beating they just took. Maryland looked terrible at times and great at other points, but remember that this is far from the level of competiton they can expect to see the rest of the way.
A lot can still change either way, but it looks like Selection Sunday will be an interesting one.