Duke (18-2, 8-2 in the ACC) is now tied for the league lead with North Carolina and Wake Forest, and with the hardest remaining schedule of the three, the Blue Devils cannot afford to stumble.
So when Duke squares off with an inconsistent Maryland (14-7, 5-5) team Saturday in College Park, it cannot afford a loss like the Blue Devils suffered to the Terrapins Jan. 26 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“The conference is pretty wide open between the top three teams,” J.J. Redick said. “We’ve kind of separated ourselves by a little bit from the middle of the pack, and I think the team that can win on the road is going to be the team that wins the league.”
The Comcast Center is not a welcoming environment for any road team, especially for the Blue Devils. Last year, Terps’ fans were publically criticized for screaming obscenities at Duke’s players, directing many at Redick.
But the Roanoke, Va., native responded, scoring 26 points, including 5-for-6 from behind the three-point line in Duke’s 68-60 win.
Redick, who was named ACC Player of Week Monday, has averaged more than 26 points per game and five three pointers in Duke’s last six contests.
“Obviously every team that goes in to play Duke is trying to take Redick away from the three-point line as much as possible,” Maryland head coach Gary Williams. “He puts the ball on the floor both right- and left-handed, and he knows how to draw fouls better this year.
“He’s a better all-around offensive player. Instead of just having to rely on shooting a great percentage from the three-point line, he does other things to score now.”
Maryland has its own player who responds well to hostile environments in forward Nik Caner-Medley. He was the recipient of ribbing from the Cameron Crazies in his latest visit and turned in an impressive performance, scoring 25 points.
At 6-foot-8 Caner-Medley has the ability to shoot three-pointers and also put the ball on the court to drive to the basket, thus creating matchup problems for the Blue Devils.
“I just think he overpowered us a few times,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s a strong kid and a good, veteran player. If there’s one thing that won the game it was that his desire to win was great.”
In the teams’ first meeting, David McClure was Duke’s most effective defender on Caner-Medley, but McClure will miss Saturday’s game after he suffered a knee injury against Maryland in Cameron.
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Maryland is giving up the third most points in the ACC, but the Blue Devils shot just 33.3 percent during the teams’ first meeting. Duke lacked balance and also missed out on many opportunities, Krzyzewski said.
Center Will Bowers earned an unexpected start for Maryland in Cameron to bang in the post against Shelden Williams, but the Landlord still recorded 18 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks.
Since the team’s win in Durham, Maryland has continued its up-and-down play, going 2-2 with losses at last-place Clemson and Miami.
But despite the Terps’ inconsistency, they are jockeying for position among the cluster of 5-5 teams in the ACC. A regular season sweep of the Blue Devils would also greatly improve their NCAA Tournament résumé.