In sports the difference between elation and heartbreak often comes down to a matter of millimeters.
Maryland learned that the hard way at Duke on Saturday.
The Terrapins’ potential game-winning shot trickled off the rim with less than two seconds remaining, allowing the Blue Devils to escape with a 69-67 victory.
The reality of conference realignment, especially from the college basketball side of things, is that many of the game’s best rivalries fall by the wayside.
Saturday’s Maryland versus Duke tilt may have been the last chapter of a storied rivalry, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:
Maryland at No. 8 Duke (on ESPN). This is the last reg season meeting as ACC opponents. Duke has won 6 straight home meetings. #MDvsDUKE— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 15, 2014
If it was the last time fans will be treated to a showdown between the Blue Devils and Terrapins, it didn’t disappoint.
Along those lines, Mike Krzyzewski had an answer for those wondering if these two schools will try to keep the series going after Maryland joins the Big Ten next season when he appeared on ESPN 980. His comments were passed along by Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post:
The quality of athlete on the court and then the atmosphere that they were able to play in really brought out some special moments. You can’t just say you’re going to replicate that in another conference right away. That was already there. It was established over a period of time, and that won’t happen again. That’s not gonna happen again, because we’re not gonna schedule them. It’s tough to schedule anybody when you have 18 conference games. But when we schedule non-conference, it’s usually outside of our conference area, so that we play national teams.
While the posturing outside the lines was worth mentioning, the game itself was incredible.
However, the early going was defined by foul trouble.
Both Rodney Hood for Duke and Dez Wells for Maryland found themselves on the bench in the first half with foul trouble.
Largely because of free throws, though, Duke jumped out to an early lead. However, Nick Faust turned the momentum around in one leap with a monster jam off an offensive rebound. ESPN’s Jay Levy captured the excitement:
Not to be outdone, Duke responded with a spurt of its own to build a 39-33 lead by halftime.
The story of the first half from a Maryland perspective was the fact that Wells didn't record a single bucket. However, he came alive after intermission and began slashing the lane, making beautiful passes in transition and taking over the contest for the Terrapins.
He was also targeting Hood, who had four fouls, with his dribble penetration.
Perhaps he was a bit fresher from his time on the bench with foul trouble:
Good news: Dez Wells has a fresh set of wheels and he's heating up!— Maryland Basketball (@TerrapinHoops) February 16, 2014
Even with Wells’ improved play, Duke seemed to have control until an and-1 finish from the Maryland superstar that woke the crowd up with an injection of nervous energy. Seth Davis of CBS Sports commented on it:
Dez Wells and-one. All tied up. Here we go.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 16, 2014
For a while, Maryland simply appeared to be playing with more passion and was able to take a 54-52 lead, as ESPN’s Andy Katz pointed out:
Maryland putting up a great effort at Duke. The last time the Terps play at Cameron for a long, long time (maybe ever).— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) February 16, 2014
Rasheed Sulaimon, who came off the bench after starting in recent contests, hit a critical three-pointer to give Duke a two-point lead with less than five minutes to go after a crippling Maryland turnover.
From there it was a back-and-forth struggle between Hood and Wells until Jabari Parker showed the world why he is a top-notch NBA prospect with an isolation drive and dunk to give the Blue Devils a one-point lead with just more than a minute remaining.
Maryland couldn't score on the ensuing possession, but Duke followed with a critical shot-clock violation after an extended replay review determined the Blue Devils never hit the rim on their possession that ended with less than 20 seconds remaining.
That set up a do-or-die possession for the Terrapins.
Despite Wells’ incredible game, it was actually Charles Mitchell that took the final shot. Mitchell probably could have forced the ball to Wells if he tried, but instead of risking a turnover he took it himself.
The shot trickled off the rim, potentially ending the Duke and Maryland rivalry for good.
Jabari Parker, Duke: A
Parker, as he has for much of the season, carried the Blue Devils offense for extended stretches of the game. He finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
Bret Strelow of The Fayetteville Observer compared Parker to a certain NBA star that has been known to carry his squad at times:
Jabari Nowitzki— Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow) February 16, 2014
Parker’s isolation finish at the rim was one of the most important plays of the game. He was the best player on the floor along with Wells for the entire contest and added yet another excellent game to his freshman-season resume.
Dez Wells, Maryland: A -
It was a tale of two halves for Wells.
In the first half he was virtually invisible unless a foul was being called. He went into intermission without a point and three fouls and even started the second half on the bench.
However, it is almost impossible to win in an atmosphere like Cameron Indoor without a good game from your best player. It was absolutely imperative for Wells to step up his production in the second half if the Terrapins wanted to have a chance at victory.
That is exactly what happened.
Wells single-handedly took over the game when the Terrapins had the ball in the second half. It’s not difficult to envision Wells playing in the NBA one day at an effective level if he performs like he did against the Blue Devils.
He finished with 17 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Rodney Hood, Duke: C
Hood’s game was defined by the foul trouble he struggled with.
He was somewhat effective when he was on the floor and finished with 11 points, but he only grabbed one rebound and shot 3-of-10 from the field.
Hood was unable to stop Wells for much of the second half because of the foul trouble, which allowed the Terps to climb back in the game.
Considering he is posting nightly averages of 16.5 points and 4.5 rebounds behind 49.4 percent shooting from the field, 45 percent shooting from behind the arc and 83 percent shooting from the free-throw line, it was certainly a disappointing showing.
Maryland returns home for two contests against Wake Forest on Tuesday and Syracuse on Feb. 24. At this point, the Terrapins have an uphill battle if they hope to contend for an NCAA tournament spot, so picking up some victories at home would go a long way.
Will Duke make the Final Four
As for Duke, thanks in large part to the cancellation of this week’s North Carolina game due to inclement weather, this contest with Maryland kicked off a busy stretch. The Blue Devils play at Georgia Tech Tuesday, at North Carolina Thursday then return home to face Syracuse on Saturday, Feb. 22 in a rematch of one of the best college basketball games of the year.
If the Orange and Blue Devils play anything close to the contest they had in the Carrier Dome, it will be appointment viewing.
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