Since Maryland topped Duke March 3rd, the Blue Devils had reeled off 24 straight wins.
And well into the second half Sunday night, it looked like the unranked Terrapins might pull off the upset again. Thanks to the efforts of a couple of unexpected contributors off the bench and a late game effort from Duke’s captains, however, the No. 1 Blue Devils survived Maryland with a 71-64 victory.
“It was a huge win for us because we played against as well-coached a team as we have played against all year,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Gary [Williams]… is a great coach and his game plan against us was magnificent. They did everything possible to take Nolan [Smith] out of the game. They really crowded the paint…. They just played a really strong aggressive, physical, game.
“They were very good, I mean really good. We haven’t been in a game like that.”
At the half, the Blue Devils led by a slim margin, 32-31. Locker room talks didn’t seem to have their intended effect, as Duke came out flat to open the second half. The Terrapins immediately scored seven straight points in just over a minute to claim a six-point lead, the biggest lead any team has built on the Blue Devils this season.
“Whatever we told them at halftime was not working,” Krzyzewski said. “We gave up seven points in a minute and two seconds, and we shot two air balls.... We didn’t run what we were supposed to run.”
When the Blue Devils still failed to score on their next three possessions, Krzyzewski made an unexpected substitution, putting Tyler Thornton and Seth Curry into the game alongside Kyle Singler, Mason Plumlee and Smith. The move to a smaller lineup spurred offensive and defensive plays that turned the momentum in Duke’s favor. Thornton and Curry led the Blue Devils in an 11-0 run that put Duke up 43-38.
But that lead would not stay comfortable. Using plays by Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker, the Terrapins whittled away at the lead, knotting the game at 46 with 9:53 remaining.
Now, at this crucial point in the game, the newcomers’ turn was over. Duke turned to its seniors.
Singler and Smith contributed 19 of the next 24 points. And with less than two minutes left on the clock, Smith charged to the left, blowing past sophomore Jordan Williams through a gap the Maryland player had left open on the baseline.
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Williams reciprocated with a bucket of his own on the other end of the court, but Singler answered on the next possession with a long 3-pointer from right in front of the Duke coaching staff. His trey propelled the Blue Devils to an eight-point edge.
“Kyle was Kyle tonight,” Smith said. “He can score the ball. He hits shots and attacks the rim.”
From the beginning, this contest was tighter than many expected. Second-chance points kept the Blue Devils in the game early, with four players pitching in with offensive rebounds in the first half alone.
Defensively, Duke had trouble containing Williams, who was too much for the Blue Devil frontcourt to handle. Despite disappearing for parts of the second half, Williams still managed 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Singler led Duke with 25 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of-19 shooting. After starting slow, Smith finished with 18 points, 11 of them in the second half, and seven rebounds. His 18 points came at a cost, though, with the senior connecting only five of his 18 shots.
Still, he and the rest of the Blue Devils exhibited their trademark intensity, according to Maryland head coach Gary Williams.
“The one thing that Duke, you can count on, regardless of how they shoot, they will play with a certain level of intensity every time,” he said. “To their credit, they were able to take a pretty good hit tonight and come back and win the game.”