Maryland's 87-71 loss to Duke in the second round of the ACC Tournament - the one that ended their NCAA tournament chances - ended in a fitting way: it was basically a recap of their entire season. Maryland made a great second-half run, played with heart, and showed that, if nothing else, they can play with even the best teams in the country.
Then they missed free throws. They had careless turnovers. Their young point guards cost them. They went over five minutes without any points. Jordan Williams dominated, then disappeared. The only two faults that didn't show up were perimeter defense and upperclassmen scoring options, but those that were present were enough to do in Maryland despite going toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils for 30 minutes.
The first half was frustrating. The Terrapins shot the same percentage as Duke from the field, but bricked their six free throws, gave away 9 turnovers, and were beaten on the boards, leading to a nine-point halftime deficit.
The second-half was where we saw Maryland's revival. The Terrapins went on a run to pull within a point of Duke's lead with about 12:00 left in the second half. The score was 65-60 Duke with about nine minutes left; Maryland proceeded to go on a five-minute scoreless streak while Duke stretched the lead to about 12. (I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the refs did blow two calls heinously when the game was 65-60, but Maryland lost this game for a lot of reasons).
After that, Maryland essentially imploded. As a commenter in the GameThread said, it turned into a train wreck faster than Charlie Sheen. Everyone, even the upperclassmen, lost their composure. Things compounded to get worse and worse and Duke built up a bigger and bigger lead. By the end of the game, they had a 16-point lead in a game that was about 8 points apart in reality.
Kyle Singler led the way for Duke, blowing up for 29 points. I'm not sad that Maryland never has to play him again. Jordan Williams had 16 points and 16 boards for Maryland, but it was a quiet double-double for his standards.
And yes, I could've saved a lot of time if I had just re-written the recap for the last time these two met, which had the exact same storyline.
First and foremost: free throws. They seemed to have fixed their free throw problems over the past few games, but they showed back up again tonight. Maryland was 0-6 from the line in the first half, and finished 15-28 on the night. That's hardly better than 50%; if they shot 70% from the field, they get an extra five points and avoid that ridiculous scoring drought.
A big reason for the poor performance: Jordan Williams, who shot 2-10 from the line. Free throws have cost Maryland much of their season; if they shot better today, they probably would've won.
Lest you get the wrong idea of Jordan, he was pretty good today. He finished with 16 and 16, even though they were quiet. Duke fronted him, so Maryland's guards couldn't get him the ball in rhythm. That threw his entire game off, but he was still productive. Not that we don't already know this, but Maryland really needs him next year.
Another problem was Maryland's lack of composure, particularly at point guard. The tug of war between Pe'Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin keeps changing. Stoglin is a weapon when he's scoring, no doubt, but when he's not? He's a serious liability on both ends of the floor. He doesn't make great decisions, he doesn't defend particularly well, and he doesn't involve the team enough for a point guard. When he puts up 25, none of that matters. When he has a statline like tonight (6 points, 2-10 from the field), it's killer.
Howard, meanwhile, can be almost as out-of-control, but that's much more rare. He was the better of the two today, with more production in the box score (10 points) and a better job running the offense. Stoglin is still going to be more spectacular in the future, no doubt about that, but Howard is still steadier and sometimes better in the present.
As ridiculous as this sounds, we need to give some props to Cliff Tucker. Yes, you read that right. After a slow start, he ended up being one of Maryland's best players on both ends of the floor. He had a few great defensive plays and was a catalyst for every run Maryland made. He finished as Maryland's second-leading scorer and only had one TO. It's about time, I know, but it's better to see it now than never.
Closing comments: Maryland fought hard. Give them that. The second half effort was great, and they looked just as good as Duke for much of the game. But this team has flaws, and we know it. We saw them again tonight. In its current form, they're not good enough to beat Duke. That will change in the future, maybe as soon as next year, but they're not there yet.
In the meantime, we'll see the NIT. It's not going to be a fun next couple of weeks, but at least some of the young players - particularly Stoglin, Howard, and Haukur Palsson, who got his second straight start tonight - will get more experience, preparing them to make a run in the future. That's about all we have to look forward to at this point, after all.