Photo by Chase Olivieri/The Chronicle
ATLANTA -- Games against Maryland have always meant something more to Nolan Smith. The sophomore hails from Upper Marlboro, Md., about 30 minutes from College Park, and plays pickup ball in the summer with many of the Terrapin players. The fact that Smith sustained a mild concussion at the Comcast Center Feb. 25 only added to the value Smith assigns to battling his hometown team.
And so when Greivis Vasquez' final 3-pointer missed Saturday--when, at last, Duke's place in the ACC Tournament final was secure--it was only fitting that Smith emerged from a scrum with the rebound and dribbled the clock down to zero.
"It definitely means something," Smith said. "I'm going to see these guys in the summertime, and now I have the last laugh to say, ‘We beat you guys three times this year.' I won't tease them too bad because I have to play them another two years after this one, but it definitely feels good to knock them out of the ACC Tournament."
Duke's games against Maryland have become tighter--and chippier--as the season has progressed. In January, the Blue Devils beat the Terrapins by 41 points. In February, they won by 11, even though Smith left the game after running into a Dave Neal screen. Finally, in March, Smith helped Duke maintain a late lead.
The sophomore scored 10 points, his most since Feb. 11, in 30 minutes, his most since Jan. 17. He converted 3-of-4 free throws in the last 35 seconds, but his increased awareness on the floor wasn't limited to the waning minutes. His teammates noticed that Smith was back to normal long before he held the ball and the backboard's red light activated.
"Nolan's huge for us," junior Jon Scheyer said. "For Nolan to do what he did today took a lot of guts, and he really made some huge plays for us."
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