Sporting jerseys from the 1991-92 national championship season, Duke survived a scare Saturday and ended its historic conference matchup against Maryland with a 69-67 win.
Normally known for their long-range scoring, the Blue Devils did not shoot particularly well from the field, but tough team defense and great offensive production from freshman Jabari Parker proved just enough. Parker led all scorers with 23 points, including an emphatic one-handed dunk with 1:05 remaining to give Duke a 68-67 advantage.
“I’m just trying to be there for my team,” Parker said. “It doesn’t really matter how many points I score. If it’s got to be 20, then let it be. I’m just making the defense uncomfortable, just trying to make plays for the team.”
Despite their shooting woes, head coach Mike Krzyzewski's squad seemed in control for much of the first half, extending their lead to as many as 10 points through stout defensive execution.
But the Terrapins refused to go quietly—sophomore Jake Layman's midrange jumper cut the margin to one with 2:24 remaining in the first half. Layman's shooting was a huge positive for Maryland, he finished with a team-high 18 points. Charles Mitchell seemed to be the other focal point of Maryland’s first half offense—the sophomore finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
Despite the performances of Layman and Mitchell, solid free-throw shooting and a strong drive by Amile Jefferson helped Duke absorb Maryland’s push. The Blue Devils hit the locker room with a six-point lead.
Unfortunately for Duke, the team’s shooting seemed to get even worse in the second half. Krzyzewski suggested that offensive frustration led to a loss of defensive focus, allowing a hungry Maryland squad back in the game.
“You don’t see [the ball] going in, and it can have an impact on you,” Krzyzewski said. “In that split second Wells took advantage where we didn’t play good defense.”
After a slow first half, Maryland combo-guard Dez Wells reveled in the Blue Devils’ defensive lull and began attacking the rim with renewed vigor. With just under nine minutes remaining in the contest, the Terrapins took a 54-52 lead on Wells' strong drive to the hoop—their first lead of the game.
"They were stopping the break high, stopping it in the back court, and we turned it over a couple times," Wells said. "I was like ‘Guys, come one, if they are going to do that, let’s make them pay.’ So we made them pay, we started really attacking after that."
As the Maryland bench erupted, the contest that had previously been one-sided was transformed into a back-and-forth barnburner.
Both teams were clearly exerting maximal effort on every play, and the competitive drive of both sides was particularly visible on the 50-50 balls. A casual observer might have thought the loose balls contained 24-karat gold rather than inflated air. Head coach Krzyzewski appreciated his team's effort.
“There were some exchanges there that are going to be highlights,” Krzyzewski said. “Those scrums where that ball is all over and you see Duke and Maryland players diving everywhere… there were a few of those. Those are unbelievable. The will to win was shown so brilliantly during those exchanges.”
For all of Maryland’s intensity, it seemed that Duke was able to corral the crucial stray rebounds and deflected passes down the stretch. Senior Tyler Thornton acknowledged that hustle is an integral part of Duke basketball.
“That’s how you win the game,” Thornton said. “Those 50-50 balls—that’s what it comes down to. It doesn’t come down to those shots you hit in the first half or those free throws you hit, its about diving, getting the loose ball, getting the jump ball stuff like that…. That’s what this program has been built on.”
The Blue Devils recovered from their offensive malaise just in the nick of time. Rasheed Sulaimon hit a clutch 3-pointer to regain the lead for Duke with four minutes remaining. Despite being relegated from the starting five, Sulaimon's bench production was vital to the team’s win. The sophomore finished with 11 points, and no shot was more important than his final one.
“As you can see from the stats it was just a tough shooting night for all of us,” Sulaimon said. “Jabari had a monster rebound, I called for it, he kicked it out to me, he trusted me, and I shot it.”
Back-and-forth scoring continued, but Parker’s resounding dunk with just over a minute remaining gave Duke the 68-67 lead. After an odd play where Amile Jefferson’s offensive rebound was discounted due to a shot clock violation, Maryland had one final possession to pull off the upset.
Charles Mitchell caught the ball in the post and got a good shot off—the ball hung on the rim for what seemed an eternity. The shot finally rimmed out, and Thornton slapped the ball away to the clutches of Jefferson, who sealed the Blue Devils’ win on the other end.
“Duke-Maryland has been a lot of great games in the past,” Sulaimon said. “This will be the last one…. They fought their hearts out, we fought our hearts out, and at the end we just wanted a little bit more.”