GREENSBORO - For the first time in seven years, the women's basketball team was forced to watch the ACC Tournament finals, rather than play in the title game.
The No. 2 Blue Devils (26-3), losers for only the second time in 22 tries at the Greensboro Coliseum, trailed most of the way as No. 4 Maryland came away with a 78-70 win in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament Saturday.
Duke held its only lead of the game-a brief 54-53 advantage-after a 16-0 run with 9:35 to play in the second half. The Blue Devils looked like they finally would gain control when they switched from their usual man-to-man defense to a zone trap, forcing Terrapin turnovers on five straight possessions.
"Once we got the lead, we were still anxious," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I think it took the wind out of our sails a little bit and we were a little fatigued at that point."
Maryland (28-3) refused to let Duke completely seize momentum. The Terrapins countered, as Crystal Langhorne scored four points during a 9-0 Maryland run that put Duke back ahead eight, and the margin never dipped back below six again.
Senior Monique Currie led the Blue Devils with 18 points, but struggled from the field hitting only 6-of-17 shots. Duke as a team shot only 35.9 percent, after shooting 54.3 percent from the field Friday night in the quarterfinals against Virginia Tech.
While the Blue Devils consistently missed layups, the Terrapins were boosted by the strong inside play of sophomore forwards Laura Harper and Langhorne, who combined for 30 points and 16 rebounds. The Maryland duo shot a combined 11-for-21, while Duke centers Alison Bales and Chante Black shot a collective 2-for-12.
Maryland guard Shay Doron played a limited 17 minutes in only her second game in a reserve role this season after suffering a deep thigh bruise earlier in the week in practice. Despite the absence of the All-ACC Second Team player, freshman guard Kristi Toliver and ACC Rookie of the Year Marissa Coleman were able to control the pace of the game, helping the Terrapins build a lead that reached 15 points early in the second half.
"They knocked down almost every shot they took," Duke guard Lindsey Harding said. "They did a great job of moving the ball, going inside and outside.. They knocked down big shots when it counted."
With the loss, the Blue Devils failed to reach their seventh consecutive ACC Tournament Final. Duke also lost to Maryland for the first time in 15 games.
"It's really disappointing to not make it to the finals and not have a chance to win it," Harding said. "We all felt that this was our tournament."
Despite the disappointment of not contending for the ACC crown, the Blue Devils said they recognize the season is far from over and much still lies ahead.
"This loss helps us know that now, you win or you go home for the rest of the season," Currie said. "We want to continue playing to reach our ultimate goal."
The Blue Devils have now dropped two of their past three games, including the regular-season finale to North Carolina Feb. 26.
Still, Goestenkors said the three losses were against the No. 1 and No. 4 teams in the country, and that her team has arguably played the nation's toughest schedule, which will provide good preparation for the NCAA Tournament.
Despite its sluggish finish, Goestenkors said she does not expect the team's stumble to affect its seeding when the selection committee announces the tournament field.
"We just lost to two great teams. but I think people are looking at our record thinking we're on a downslide," Goestenkors said. "Because Maryland is such a great team, I don't think it should affect our seeding."
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