DURHAM, N.C. — The Maryland men’s basketball team was supposed to be a punching bag at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday. Three days earlier, No. 1 Duke was embarrassed in a 27-point loss at Miami, the worst defeat suffered by a top-ranked team in 45 years. The Blue Devils would emerge with fire and swagger, the pregame narratives said, with the Terrapins serving the role of helpless victim.
That this young Maryland team traded blows throughout the first half was surprising enough. The Terps entered halftime only eight points down without freshman guard Seth Allen, who was benched after arriving late to a team meeting. It took some time for the rout to ignite — until the second half, even — but the Blue Devils finally pulled away for a comfortable 84-64 win.
“We weren’t that bad,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. “At the end, we went a little crazy with our shot selection and things, trying to catch up too quick. All the credit goes to Duke. They bounced back, which you kind of figured they would.”
Allen’s benching magnified the larger issue of immaturity, which has plagued the Terps (15-5, 3-4) throughout an ACC slate now two games away from its midpoint. They collapsed in the second half against Florida State and were undone by similar self-inflicted wounds on the road at North Carolina and Miami. Provided with breathing room, the Blue Devils (17-2, 4-2) took full advantage.
Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon finished with a career-high 25 points, finding open space along the perimeter for six three-pointers after Maryland botched defensive assignments. After Shaquille Cleare limited him to three field goal attempts before halftime, Duke senior forward Mason Plumlee scored 15 points after intermission. By the time he threw down a putback reverse slam, getting smacked with a technical foul in the process, the chants of “ACC! ACC!” and “Don’t come back!” were raining down on the Terps.
“I take more from the last 15 [minutes], because that’s when we’re supposed to learn,” said Maryland’s Charles Mitchell, who tied with Dez Wells for a team-high 13 points. “They got momentum and we couldn’t get it back. The last 15 minutes is what I’m going to focus on when I get home. What mistakes I made, what mistakes the team made, how we can get better for the last 15. But we played hard the first 25.”
Sluggish starts had been a constant in Maryland’s prior road games this season, and the raucous Cameron Indoor Stadium environment — with fans holding up signs bidding Maryland “good riddance” to the Big Ten — figured to provide the same. And yet here was Maryland, responding to a 10-point first-half deficit with a 6-0 run, capped by a Jake Layman three-pointer that chopped its deficit to 34-30.
In the first half, it appeared the Terps could actually hang around and make things competitive. They shot better than 40 percent for the second straight game following an abysmal four-game stretch. They outmuscled Duke underneath, snatching offensive rebounds on 57 percent of their first-half misses, and reached 30 points by halftime for the first time since losing to Florida State on Jan. 9.
The problem? Duke was markedly better. Sulaimon was perfect on five three-point attempts before halftime, while Plumlee finished the game 9 of 12 from the field. All five Blue Devils starters reached double figures. For Maryland, center Alex Len played 34 minutes but attempted just six field goals, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds, his highlight a reverse baseline slam past Plumlee that even caused the Cameron Crazies to take notice.
“I was pleased, considering they were seven out of 10 from three” by halftime, Turgeon said. “I was like, man, I don’t know if Duke can play any better than they played. Well, they played about the same in the second half. And they were better defensively. They wore us down a little bit.”
The Terps were rendered powerless by Duke’s second-half runs, which matched every Maryland response. At one point, Turgeon implored for a goaltending call on a missed Wells layup. Instead, it turned into a Seth Curry three-pointer and a five-point Blue Devils swing.
“We played hard, but we have to put 40 minutes together hard like we’re capable of doing,” Wells said. “Duke just came off a really, really, tough loss. They’re a great team. We expected them to come out really, really fired up and ready to play. The way they played today, they probably could beat any team in the country. We played our hearts out. I’m proud of my team and proud of the way we responded, but we have to get better from here.”