Welcome back to the bubble, Terps. And you can thank, among others, Dez Wells for getting you there.
Behind a career-high 30 from Wells, who looked every bit a John Gilchrist c. 2004 impersonator, the Maryland Terrapins lead wire-to-wire and topped the #2 Duke Blue Devils (for the second time this season) in the second round of the ACC Tournament, 83-74 - reviving their NCAA Tournament hopes and perhaps solidifying their improvement as a program.
Wells was unstoppable, without question; he finished 9-13 from the floor, 2-2 from three, and an absurd (for a 68% shooter) 10-10 from the free throw line, which is about as efficient a 30 points as you'll ever see. Paired with his equally dominant showing over Wake Forest yesterday, it's clear that Wells is currently in some kind of zone at the moment. And if the Terps are to have a real chance to progress even further, he'll need to continue playing out of his mind - and, it should be noted, like the player Maryland fans suspected they'd be getting from Xavier.
I had mentioned in the game preview that, to have a chance, Maryland needed Wells to play out of his skin, and he certainly did. But this was not a one-man performance. Far from it, the Terrapins excelled in every aspect. They shot 51% from the floor, 40% from deep, and - jaw-droppingly - 92% from the stripe. They outrebounded Duke by 10. They assisted on 18 of their 26 made baskets. They played defense well enough to limit the Blue Devils to just 16% from three, 4-25 - a stat that included plenty of shots Duke missed that could've gone on another day, for sure, but the Terps deserve credit for their energy and discipline. Their switches were consistently good and they closed out every clean look Duke had; even a wide-open look can become tough when you have Charles Mitchell or Jake Layman sprinting out at you, arms flailing. Hell, they even only turned the ball over 14 times - still a gaudy number, but much better than the every-third-possession outing they had the last time the two met.
Wells was great, but so too was Alex Len - in fits and starts, perhaps, but he ultimately got the better of Plumlee. So was Jake Layman, who had a near double-double. And so was Pe`Shon Howard, who has continued his comeback with another fantastic performance quarterbacking Maryland's offense. And a special shoutout to Mark Turgeon, who coached his best game in College Park: he shortened the rotation, he made smart substitutions, he made in-game adjustments, he had his guys ready to go and kept them that way. There have been legitimate concerns about his coaching ability all year, but wins like this help answer them.
Tonight was about energy. It was about hunger. And it was about execution. I can't remember the last time Maryland put together all three in such quantity.
This is a good win. A really good win. Duke was not only gunning for the #1 overall seed, they were also undefeated with Ryan Kelly. Maryland has a win against them in their previous incarnation and at full-strength, and not a single bubble team can match wins anywhere near those. I'm skeptical that it puts them in the tournament, but with Virginia and Kentucky both losing today, there's definitely some room opening up on the bubble. It at least puts them back in the conversation - and a win over either Carolina or FSU tomorrow would probably clinch a spot, improbably.
But the Terps got this win, you feel, by playing loose and free, and you'd hope worrying about the tourney doesn't burden that. Even if this proves too little and too late, I'm not quite bothered; I've already written off the tournament for this year, but this win ensures that things will stay positive going into the offseason, something that was desperately needed.
The first half was a dream one for the Terrapins, as good as they could've hoped for. Jake Layman hit a corner three at the start, and the Terps would never look back from there: they led 12-2 at the under-16 timeout and led by double-digits multiple times in the half, with Duke never getting the lead. The Terps had plenty of dry spells and had to absorb plenty of Duke runs, but each time they'd respond, usually led by Wells. Their execution, their intensity, and their effort - especially their effort - were all impeccable, and they took a respectable 34-26 lead into the break: one that could've been smaller with some better from Duke, but could've been much larger as well.
Just like the Virginia game, though, you knew that Maryland would struggle to uphold that level of play all game and that Duke would come out guns ablazin' in the second half. Both were true: after a quick 5-2 run out of the gates from the Terps, Duke slowly but surely re-established their foothold on the game. Once again, things looked to become a battle to hold onto an quickly-dwindling lead, oscillating from four to one to seven to six to two. But then something unusual happened, the same thing that happened against Wake Forest: Maryland went on an 11-2 run.
Incredibly, Maryland finished. They built up a buffer, one that proved too big for Duke to make a serious run at, and they put away a team. They did the same to Wake yesterday, too, and if there's any sign that this team is growing up, it's that.
Enjoy the win. Go storm a court somewhere. Watch UNC-FSU on ESPN2 right now for a scouting report of tomorrow's opponent. And be back here tomorrow - this thing isn't over yet.