The Terps had six day to prepare for their visit from Duke, the #2 team in the country and probably Maryland's last real chance at a resume win, their Tournament hopes hanging on by a thread. And they showed up in a way, with a passion and purpose and energy, we haven't seen all year. They were focused, mature, intense, and most of all poised, and in the end they pulled off an improbable 83-81 upset, launching themselves back into the tournament conversation and raising the possibility that maybe, just maybe, a young team finally is growing up.
Spurred on by a raucous Comcast Center, Maryland came out electric in the first half jumping out to a 5-0 lead and controlling large swathes of the first twenty minutes. It's impossible to play lethargic against Duke, and the Terrapins were far from it, playing dialed-in, passionate basketball. Impressively, though, they weren't overzealous or intimidated by the opposition, largely playing under control - by their standards, at least. Despite Alex Len having to sit the final eight minutes of the half with foul trouble, the Terrapins finished +8 on the glass, shot 55% from the floor, and got unexpectedly productive performances from Nick Faust and James Padgett off the bench, taking a surprising one-point lead, 35-34, into the break.
The second half was much the same story. Maryland was as intense and focused as we've seen all year, and it was hugely impressive to see. They even jumped out to a ten-point lead at the fourteen-minute mark, and with a tired Duke team reeling, looked they might coast home.
But few, if any, can do that against Duke. The Blue Devils, being who they are, went on a 7-0 run, pressuring the young Terps and testing their composure. Maryland's been mistake-prone all year long, and turned the ball over three straight possessions to let Duke back into the game, turning the final ten minutes into an absolute battle.
And what a battle it was. The Terps clung to a single-digit lead for most of the final ten minutes of the game, one that Duke worked as low to a mere single point. It seemed as if at any moment, a young Maryland team would break under pressure, as they had done so many times before.
Instead something strange happened. More and more time passed, and the Terps never broke. They fought, they scrapped, they made tough shots, they rebounded, they absorbed Duke run after Duke run, foul call after foul call, silly turnover after silly turnover. And they never caved. They never fell apart. Through Alex Len's foul trouble, through Seth Allen's eight turnovers, through Seth Curry's absurd shooting streak, Maryland kept their cool. And they nearly got home with that lead, wire-to-wire, intact.
But the Blue Devils had kept it whittled to a mangable level, and after a Dez Wells turnover and a Jake Layman missed free throw, had the game within three with under a minute to go. Layman fouled Rasheed Sulaimon in the act of shooting a three, and Sulaimon was money from the stripe, knocking down all three free throws and typing the game at 81.
Needing a bucket, with only seconds to go, the Terps turned to the best pure scorer on the roster: Seth Allen. And while Allen was an obvious choice for his scoring ability, he wasn't a no-brainer; he had turned the ball over eight times, and had a devil of time with Duke's pressure. But Maryland ran an iso for him at the top of the key and Allen drew a foul heading for the basket, nailing both of his own free throws to give Maryland an 83-81 lead with just under three seconds on the clock. Quinn Cook, the D.C. native, got an open look for Duke to win it at the buzzer, but his halfcourt heave bounced off the back of the rim and secured Maryland's unexpected victory.
The Terps outplayed Duke over forty minutes and easily deserved their victory, which is a surprise in and of itself. But even more shocking is how controlled they seemed; oh sure, silly turnovers still occurred at an alarming rate, but as I said before, there were numerous opportunities for them to fold. And they have this year, several times. With Duke, the team that always seems to sniff out young teams not ready for prime time, staring them down on the other end of the court, that they kept their cool and staved off the Blue Devils' late run is a seriously impressive feat.
Individually, though, the plaudits have to go to Alex Len, who had a downright dominating performance. He finished with 19 points, 8 boards, and 3 blocks, holding supposed ACC Player of the Year Mason Plumlee to just 4 points and 2 rebounds, with none of those coming in the second half. He controlled the entire game, on both ends of the floor, in a way he hasn't done all year long, not even really against Kentucky. Len plays his best in these types of raucous atmospheres, when the nation is watching. If a light came on for him today, though, and Maryland can get him playing like this down the stretch, few teams will be able to contain him.
But another eight Terrapins saw the floor tonight aside from Len, and not a one of them had a bad game. James Padgett played like you expect a senior to play. Charles Mitchell provided energy and garbage buckets when Maryland needed them in the second half. Nick Faust put up seven first-half points to help the Terps secure their half-time lead. Similar stories are there for Logan Aronhalt, Shaq Cleare, Dez Wells, and Jake Layman.
And Seth Allen? Oh, Seth Allen. Asked to take over the point guard reins full-time in the absence of Pe`Shon Howard, Allen struggled and then some, turning the ball over eight times and looking lost against Duke's intense pressure. But, mirroring the rest of the team's performance, he never caved. He made clutch shot after clutch shot, dropping 16 points in the second half, none bigger than his two at the free throw line to win the game. Allen may not be a point guard, but given that Maryland doesn't have one on the roster, his performance will give heart that he can do a job there for the rest of the year.
There's a heck of a lot to talk about from this, but there's no point in doing it now. People are rioting on Route 1, after all.