COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The Blue Devils found themselves in an unfamiliar position Sunday night. For the first time all season, fourth-ranked Duke trailed at halftime.
Down by nine and with three starters in foul trouble, however, the Blue Devils stormed back and knocked off Maryland (12-8, 2-3 in the ACC) 93-84 in front of a raucous and hostile crowd at the Comcast Center.
"That was a big-time basketball game," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Obviously, I'm really proud of my guys for making some big plays in the second half. One, to get us back into the game, and two, to give us a lead at the end."
The Terrapins and Blue Devils (17-1, 5-0) traded leads for much of the first half, but in the final two minutes of the half, Maryland ripped off a 9-2 run to take a 51-42 lead.
In the midst of the Terrapin rally, Krzyzewski picked up his first technical foul of the season and Duke headed into halftime looking frustrated with its inability to stop Maryland's frontcourt duo of Bambale Osby and James Gist. Osby was just one rebound shy of a double-double in the opening period and Gist scored 14 points while going 6-for-8 from the charity stripe.
"Osby and Gist gave us and will give a lot of people problems," Krzyzewski said. "Gist is a pro-he's really good. He's really as good as any big kid in our league."
The Blue Devils returned to the court in the second half as a much different team. Duke wasted no time responding to Maryland's impressive run heading into the intermission, cutting the nine-point deficit to just three points in the opening minute.
After a disappointing first half offensively, senior captain DeMarcus Nelson ignited the Duke comeback and eventual victory, netting 19 of his career-high 27 points in the second half to go along with three key steals.
"My mindset was that I'm going to do whatever it takes for my team to win, and make plays for myself and for my teammates," Nelson said.
With junior point guard Greg Paulus in foul trouble after picking up his fourth personal foul with more than 10 minutes remaining in the game, freshman Nolan Smith came off the bench to provide a much-needed lift for the Blue Devils.
The 6-foot-2 Maryland native pulled down five rebounds and scored seven points in the second half and had perhaps Duke's two biggest plays of the game. With the Blue Devils working to build a lead in the closing minutes, the freshman made a circus catch on a Jon Scheyer airball and somehow managed to draw a shooting foul in the process while falling to the floor.
Smith sank both free throws to put Duke up by six. Moments later, he put the Blue Devils up nine with 4:33 to play after draining a shot in heavy traffic under the hoop and finishing off the three-point play with his third made free throw of the half.
"Nolan was terrific. He was our X-factor out there," Nelson said. "Nolan was huge, he was huge. If we can get that kind of performance with him coming off the bench, especially on a night like tonight with Greg in foul trouble, we're going to be tough to be beat."
Although Paulus was in foul trouble and sat on the bench for all but eight minutes of the second half, Krzyzewski put him back in the game in the closing minutes and the junior played a key part in sealing the Duke victory and silencing the rowdy Terrapin faithful.
In the final 20 seconds, Paulus was a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line as the once-virulent Maryland fans headed for the exits.
"It was a hostile environment," Paulus said. "This place is known for that when Duke is coming to town. We knew it was going to be this way, and I thought we did a great job handling it."
Smith and Nelson stole the show in the second half for the Blue Devils, but in the first 20 minutes, Gerald Henderson was the lone bright spot for Duke and the only reason the Blue Devils were not trailing by a wider margin at the break.
The sophomore was 6-for-7 from the field and led all scorers with 16 in the opening period. In the second half, with forwards Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas plagued with foul trouble, Henderson played a key role in slowing the production of Osby and Gist while also contributing offensively, tying a career high with 23 points.
"[Henderson] stepped up," Krzyzewski said. "That was one of his best performances."
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