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Singler, bench spark second half comeback against Maryland

Duke got all it could handle when Maryland came to town Sunday night.

It took a couple of unusual contributors off the bench and a late effort from the Blue Devils’ two seniors to give No. 1 Duke the 71-64 victory.

At the half, the Blue Devils led by a slim margin, 32-31. Locker room talks seemed to have little effect on inspiring Duke’s play to start the second period. The Terrapins immediately scored seven straight points in just over a minute to claim a six-point lead, sizable for this game.

“Whatever we told them at halftime was not working,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We gave up seven points in a minute and two seconds, and we shot two air balls, I think. We didn’t run what we were supposed to run.”

When the Blue Devils still failed to score on its next three possessions, Krzyzewski made an unexpected substitution, putting Tyler Thornton and Seth Curry into the game alongside Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Mason Plumlee. The move to a smaller lineup spurred offensive and defensive plays that turned the momentum in Duke’s favor.

Thornton immediately harassed Terrell Stoglin into a turnover. The Terrapin’s miscue was just one of many in a bad night for the freshman point guard, who shot only 1-of-10 and missed all six of his 3-point attempts.

After Plumlee picked up his third and fourth fouls within a matter of seconds, Curry sparked a crucial offensive surge. Lurking in the left corner, he faked and watched the Maryland defender fly by, then stepped in and drained a jumper from the elbow.

“On the scouting report, I’m known as a shooter,” Curry said. “Coach is always telling me to use the shot fake. I was able to do that, get free, and get some open looks.”

Singler followed Curry’s bucket with a 3-pointer from the right wing. His shot closed the lead to one and prompted Maryland head coach Gary Williams to call a timeout to stem the Duke tide.

It did no good, however. Stoglin fouled Curry on a 3-point attempt, and Curry converted two of those free throws. Thornton added several more outstanding defensive plays, getting in the way of Maryland players and drawing offensive fouls.

“They came in and gave us a spark,” Singler said. “That is the best way I can put it. Seth more on the offensive end and Tyler on the defensive end.”

The plays were all part of an 11-0 run that put the Blue Devils up 43-38. The lead would not stay so comfortable, however.

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 new-comers’ 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.

Williams reciprocated with a bucket of his own on the other end, but Singler’s answer on the next possession came from right in front of the Duke coaching staff. The long 3-pointer propelled the Blue Devils to an eight-point lead, their largest lead of the night.

“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 a 23-point, 13-rebound line.

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 7 rebounds.

Gary Williams was the second straight opposing coach to praise the Blue Devil seniors, who both played all 40 minutes. Williams echoed Alabama-Birmingham head coach Mike Davis’s sentiments, saying Smith and Singler “don’t get tired out there, and they are very difficult to defend.” That tirelessness gave the seniors the needed strength to make the late-game plays to secure the win Sunday night.

“It was a huge win for us because we played against as well-coached a team as we have played against all year,” 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.”

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