The dedication of Gary Williams Court brought Maryland a lot of energy, a packed house, and a super-charged and emotional start, but it wasn't enough to overcome 23 points and 11 boards from Mason Plumlee and a more talented and efficient Duke team. The Terrapins shot only 40% from the field and 52% from the stripe as the Blue Devils took the game 74-61.
The intensity for the Gary Game was predictably insane in the opening minutes, and Maryland jumping out to an 18-10 lead did little to calm it. Duke fought back largely thanks to an advantage on the inside, with Plumlee more or less having his way with whoever Maryland tried to throw at him. A four-point swing - a Sean Mosley charge leading to a James Padgett lay-in at the buzzer - kept Maryland within striking distance at the half, trailing only by 37-34 despite a lowly four first-half points from Terrell Stoglin.
Stoglin had a stronger second, scoring three quick buckets out of the break to give Maryland the lead at 43-42. An Alex Len turnaround jumper gave the Terrapins a three-point lead on the next possession. The Duke response? A predicable 15-3 run that nearly took Maryland out of the game. A five-point spurt form Nick Faust would help get the Terrapins back in the game, but it wasn't enough: there was too much Plumlee and not enough Maryland execution.
There were some positives tonight - this seemed a winnable game for about 39 minutes and I think 13 might be a harsh final margin - but it also illustrated pretty well just how far Maryland has to go. They have no consistent, go-to offensive sets. The only elite scorer on the team is Stoglin and even he isn't that consistent. There's still an utter lack of shooters. I'm not sure if there's a true floor general on the team. But most of all, there was no contest between Duke's bigs and Maryland's bigs: Plumlee basically had his way with Ashton Pankey, James Padgett, and Alex Len in turn. No one could come close to stopping him.
Give Maryland credit for the heart they showed and for the stretches of the game where they outplayed Duke - and there were several. Also realize that there's still a lot of building, both through recruiting and developing the current roster, that Mark Turgeon has to do.
Let's start with the offense. For the first 25 minutes, Maryland made a point of attacking the rim. James Padgett and Ashton Pankey combined for 11 points in the first half, and even the smaller players looked intent on getting into the post. When they took outside shots, they tended to be open and in the rhythm of the offense, with some few exceptions that really hurt. This was good, and it led to competitive play and, in some instances, leads.
For the final stretch, the bigs were basically ignored and the offense flowed entirely through the perimeter with minimal penetration. That's not terrible - part of the problem was that Duke's defense tightened up and stopped letting Pe'Shon Howard get past his man at will - but it's a big problem for Maryland, which doesn't have the consistent guard play to focus that much on the perimeter. That's a roster hole that needs to be fixed. Seth Allen and Jake Layman are starts, but I'm not sure they fix things right away.
Another problem is related to the one above: a true point guard. I love Pe'Shon Howard, and if you've been around here since before Pe's freshman year you know I've been driving his bandwagon since before he arrived on campus. But I have no idea what his role is. And I've discussed this before. He's not really a good enough scorer to be a Stoglin-type combo/2-guard. But he's clearly not a true point. He plays out of control sometimes - jump passes in the lane for the entire first half, for instance - but the problem is bigger than that. He needs to refocus the team when it gets away from its bread and butter, get it into sets that will get it into high-possession looks. Either he's not doing that or I have no idea what Mark Turgeon is trying to do with this offense - which, frankly, is a pretty good possibility.
Pe' has great physical and mental tools, mind you. We saw it in the first half. He's getting better at finding his own shot, too, and at converting it. He's a great combo guard. But 4 assists and 4 turnovers, plus the overall problems with Maryland's offense, isn't screaming "lead guard" to me.
Oh, and because it'll invariably be brought up: yes, Maryland shot 52% from the stripe today. They left 10 points on the line. Duke shot 98%. There isn't much you can do to fix that anymore, because if there was it would've been done a long time ago. Until a roster refresh is done and guys with smoother strokes get in, this what Maryland is working with. Maybe it wouldn't hurt so much if their offense didn't rely so obscenely in getting to the stripe.
But the biggest problem was obviously letting Mason Plumlee walk over Maryland's interior, and to a lesser extent Ryan Kelly as well. Maryland did a fantastic job on Duke's guards - Austin Rivers looked exceedingly average and they shot 3-16 from deep as a team - but as a result of that had to gamble by going one-on-one with Duke's big men. That's a gamble I would've taken too, to be honest, but to pull it off you need good bigs. Frankly, no one on Maryland could match up with him. No one had the strength to knock him off the block; only Len had the length and athleticism to bother his shot, but Len didn't have the wherewithal to stay in front of him; and the others couldn't bother him on that sweeping jumper he went to all day.
Shaquille Cleare will help in this regard. But so, too, will be giving Len another year. An extra level of patience is required out of him right now. There are dozens of flaws to his games - his game awareness isn't good enough, he isn't strong enough, his hands are stone, and so much more - but for all that: he's 7-1, athletic, passionate and by all accounts a hard worker. Give him a year. He'll be fine. There's a good chance he'll be better than fine. The problem is that, right now, he's not there.
More coming later. For now, well, it's a shame that they couldn't give Gary a big win on his day, but he's had enough of them on his own. The good news is that the next opposition, Virginia Tech, should be easier fare. We'll start on that tomorrow. Enjoy your riot-less evening.