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Maryland Falls Just Short at Top-Ranked Duke, 71-64

I'm not sure how to view Maryland's 71-64 loss at Duke. They played hard. They played well. For a team so inexperienced against supposedly the best team in the country in supposedly the hardest place to play in the country - both lies, but whatever - it's difficult to be disappointed with a game so close.

It's a moral victory for sure. Maryland has a lot of flaws - running from inexperience to a lack of perimeter scoring to a lack of point guard play to a few dozen other things - but the intensity and effort they showcased was fantastic. For all the flaws, they played Duke neck-to-neck for a solid 38 minutes at Cameron, and that's something that few teams in the country could claim.

It's also the fourth such "victory" that Maryland has "enjoyed" this season. At some point, probably after the second one, it begins to grow weary. Yes, Duke is great. Yes, Cameron is imposing. And yes, Maryland is rebuilding. But eventually, Maryland needs a win of note.

Maryland began cold, but extremely strong defensive play kept them close early. (Really, the strong defense was the most impressive thing from the game). The Terps actually led for a stretch late in the first half, with only a Kyle Singler tip-in at the buzzer giving the Blue Devils a one-point halftime lead. (Another side note: ready for him to be gone.) Shockingly, Maryland came out firing in the second half: they went on a 7-0 run and took a 6-point lead just over a minute into the half.

After that, things started to break down: Maryland went five scoreless minutes, giving Duke a five-point lead in the process. If there was any crucial stretch in this game, it was that one.

It's tough to blame the Terrapins. After all, they're a young team with a lot of flaws. They had no idea how to play at Cameron with a lead. Few teams do, let alone get that opportunity. But it still hurts.

Duke never looked back. Cliff Tucker tied it at the 10-minute mark with an and-one layup in transition, but missed the ensuing free throw. Maryland never let the game get out of hand, chipping away as Duke mounted bigger-and-bigger leads, but they would never again get as close as Tucker's missed free throw, and Duke won in a game that was closer than the score. There's nothing to be ashamed about, for sure, but there's certainly nothing to be satisfied about, either.

Oh, and speaking of that missed Tucker free throw: free throws have been a Maryland Achilles' heel all year, and tonight was no different. You just can't win road games against elite opponents going 9-17 (that's 53%) from the stripe. In that stretch mentioned above, Maryland missed five straight free throws. Knock down those five, and Maryland probably wins the game.

Yes, it's a broken record at this point. It won't change until they figure it out. And if it's been this long without a fix, it likely won't change this season.

In other news, Jordan Williams extended his double-double streak and was as fantastic as he usually is. Dino Gregory was solid, too, and had four blocks - like I said at the beginning of the year, he's an energy player playing starter minutes. Most encouraging was Cliff Tucker's performance: he had 14 points on 6-13 shooting and 7 rebounds. He's embodying the sixth man role right now and is probably Maryland's best hope at a consistent perimeter scorer.

On the other end of the spectrum, what a tough game for Terrell Stoglin. I didn't think he'd be fazed by the Cameron crowd, and then he went and turned in this stat line: 1-10 from the field, 0-6 from three, 5 assists, 3 TOs, 4 fouls, 3 points. He's a freshman, so it's excusable, but this is an indication that he's not yet ready for the big time. Of course, Maryland has little choice but to continue playing him: he's the future of the team and the closest thing Maryland has to a point guard.

As mentioned earlier, the defense was great and very encouraging. Maryland was already a top-five team defensively (according to KenPom, at least) and they did a great job disrupting Duke's offense. The Blue Devils shot just 29% from deep, with many coming late in the game. The defense was great against what many considered the best offensive team in the country.

Either I or Ben G. will have more tonight/tomorrow in a Four Things post. But for now, let's look ahead: the Terrapins are in a bit of a hole at 0-2 in the conference. The game against Wake Forest on Wednesday is about as close to a gimmee as you'll get in conference play, but that is followed by a non-conference road game at Villanova and a slightly challenging home game at VT. That's their first game since BC (and only second all year) that they should win but might not; it'll be a good benchmark for the progress of the team.

Meanwhile, they still aren't anywhere close to being out of the NCAA tournament hunt. They'll need 10 ACC wins for sure, plus a win over Villanova or Duke. With as bad as this conference is right now, 10 wins with no marquee victory isn't a guaranteed bid to the Dance; heck, VT had 10 last year and got left out. Speaking of the Hokies, you know what their best OOC win was last year? At Penn State. Yeah, it sounds familiar to a certain team in College Park.

Anyway, Villanova isn't a must-win, but it certainly puts some pressure on. Get the win, and there's some room for error, which Maryland teams have historically needed. Given the performance today, it seems likely they'll get one of the wins they need. The other 9 or 10 games might be the harder part.

One game-related final note: the "Duke will go undefeated" talk should probably stop now. Unless Kyrie Irving returns to the lineup, this team is very beatable. They'll lose at least once in the ACC and, unless they get another amazing draw, won't repeat in the NCAA tournament.

Solid game, but ultimately a disappointing outcome. Doesn't make Monday any easier.