The last time Duke was in Greensboro it did not end well.
Returning for the first time to the site since it was upset at by 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64 last season, the second-seeded Blue Devils (27-4, 24-4 in the ACC) will look to start its 2013 postseason off on the right foot as it faces Maryland—the No. 7 seed—in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Rallying from a five-point halftime deficit, the Terrapins (21-11, 8-10 in the ACC) pushed past Wake Forest 75-62 Thursday in the opening round of the conference tournament to advance to the quarterfinals.
“We came out with energy, started the second half, got our offense going, weren’t quite as good defensively until the end,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said following the win “We did something tonight we don’t do a lot—we got to the foul line and made free throws.”
One of Duke’s biggest challenges Friday night will be neutralizing Terrapin swingman Dez Wells. Lately, few have been able to do so. The Xavier transfer is playing perhaps his best basketball of the year, averaging 17.8 points per outing over the last five games. Playing in his home state for the ACC Tournament, the powerful 6-foot-5 wing notched a team-high 21 points in the team's win over the Demon Deacons Thursday night.
The Blue Devils know Wells and Maryland very well after having already faced the Terrapins twice this season. In Durham Jan. 26 for the first contest, Duke drained 11 three-pointers and committed just four turnovers as it comfortably put away Maryland 84-64.
The second meeting in College Park was a different story. The Terrapins—who typically rely on their physicality and defense to win—outrebounded the Blue Devils 40-20 to hold off a late surge by the Blue Devils and earn an emotional 83-81 win.
In that Maryland victory, 7-foot-1 Terrapin center Alex Len—who averages 11.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest—had his way with Duke’s best player in Mason Plumlee. Going head-to-head all night on both sides of the floor, Plumlee finished with just four points and three rebounds in perhaps the worst performance of his senior campaign.
"I didn't show up to play today, and I let my teammates down,” Plumlee said after that game. “It's all on me."
Len, meanwhile, looked like the player he has been projected to be by NBA scouts—a potential lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. The sophomore from Ukraine put up 19 points and nine rebounds while exposing the Ryan Kelly-less Duke frontcourt.
Replicating that same performance against a fully healthy Duke team that is undefeated with Kelly in the lineup this year will not be easy. Providing some much-needed added size, leadership, shooting ability from the four position and quality defensive instincts, Kelly makes the Blue Devils a vastly different team for Maryland to matchup with, especially given the short turnaround time to prepare.
With Kelly’s ability to stretch defenses, double-teaming Plumlee becomes much more difficult.
“Ryan changes the dynamic of the team,” said Wells in the postgame press conference on Thursday night. “We’re going to have him ready and be ready for him and the rest of the players. Coach K is a great coach, but I believe in my defense and my team and my coaches.”
The game could serve as some revenge for Duke if it can win, but for Maryland it is simply do-or-die. Unless they win ACC Tournament to secure an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, the Terrapins will likely not make the Big Dance. “It’s going to be a grind—they’re a great team, great coaches. I trust our coaches to have us prepared,” said guard Terrapin Pe’Shon Howard, who finished with a season-high 10 points in the team's win against Wake Forest. “They know everybody in and out of the conference, you have to play every team twice and we’re going to have to come out be ready, lock in and grind it out.”