COLLEGE PARK, Md. — As the red lights around the backboard turned on to signify the end of the game, Maryland forward Nik Caner-Medley’s fall-away jumper floated through the air.
With 17,950 red-clad fans waiting in hushed anticipation, the shot bounced twice off the rim before falling harmlessly away, sending the game into overtime.
But even before Caner-Medley’s shot left his hands, the outcome of the game was all but decided.
With forwards Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams on the bench, disqualified after picking up their fifth fouls, the Blue Devils were going to have a tough time playing with the Terrapins inside in overtime.
“Overtime was frustrating. We were definitely at a disadvantage,” J.J. Redick said. “They just had more overall athleticism than we did during the overtime.”
Despite a valiant overtime effort by 6-foot-3 “center” DeMarcus Nelson—who badly lost the opening tip to Maryland’s 6-foot-9 Ekene Ibekwe—Duke never really had a chance to stop the Terps. The extra period was just a formality.
Of the seven overtime points Maryland scored before the Blue Devils started fouling intentionally, five came after offensive rebounds. Before the period was over, three more Blue Devils—Daniel Ewing, Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni—would foul out attempting to stop the bigger and taller Maryland players.
By the time Patrick Davidson entered the game with more than three minutes to play and Duke trailing by three, it was apparent that if the Blue Devils were going to win, it would have to be in Pantheon-of-Great-Duke-Games fashion under the sub-heading “J.J. Redick steals a game.”
But Redick’s shots just wouldn’t fall—he made just 5-of-19 and missed all five of his attempts in overtime—and Maryland continued to dominate the Blue Devils on the offensive glass.
Ibekwe scored the Terps’ first point in OT on a free-throw attempt when Ewing fouled him on a put-back. Travis Garrison’s short second-chance jumper over Patrick Johnson—who contributed nothing but four fouls and appeared over-matched all night—provided the Terps’ fourth and fifth points.
But the most telling play might have been Maryland guard Mike Jones’ plucking a rebound off the top of Davidson’s head before finding teammate Chris McCray, who was fouled by Johnson.
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Head coach Mike Krzyzewski was careful not to chalk up any of the Blue Devils’ struggles to his team’s much-noted lack of depth. Instead, the coach placed blame on his players for getting into foul trouble. And although the five fouls the injured Reggie Love could have contributed underneath might have kept Williams and Randolph in the game longer, the two big men must keep themselves out of foul trouble.
Randolph did draw one of the tougher defensive assignments—following the big and versatile Caner-Medley around the court all night (or the 11 minutes Randolph actually played). But he can make no excuses for picking up two fouls in four seconds during the first half, or for committing his third foul immediately after re-entering the game later in the half.
Williams, despite a great game statistically and playing well while he was in foul trouble, took a step back Saturday. It was the first time since Duke’s win over Princeton Jan. 5 that the junior forward committed four or more fouls in a game, and it was his first disqualification since last year’s Final Four.
Duke has known since the start of the season that it would need Williams and Randolph to avoid foul trouble and play a lot of minutes to compensate for a roster that has only two true big men. In overtime against the Terps, the Blue Devils faced their worst case scenario.
Unfortunately, Duke’s nightmare overtime overshadowed a night in which the team did so many things well, especially on offense. Ewing played one of his best games of the season, scoring 23 points, and Duke was able to mix drives to the basket, long-range shots and Williams’ inside dominance on its way to 88 points during regulation.
Duke’s offensive success and second-half effort that Coach K went out of his way to praise just made the hellish overtime period tougher, as the Blue Devils found a new and frustrating way that ACC foes could beat them.
“It’s once in a blue moon that five guys foul out,” Redick said. “This league will take you prisoner and make you stay awhile.”