It seemed so innocent at the time, Maryland point guard Steve Blake fouling out with 1 minute 51 seconds left in regulation. However, that ended up being the turning point in the eighth-ranked Terrapins’ 98-96 overtime loss to second-ranked Duke on Saturday night, one of the toughest losses in Maryland history.
Blake had been brilliant. Offensively, he scored 11 points — one short of his season-high — and handed out nine assists, equaling his highest total in an ACC game. He continually pushed the ball upcourt as Maryland did what few teams have tried against the powerful Blue Devils, attacking at every opportunity.
Defensively, Blake again dominated Duke’s Jason Williams, the third time in three regular season games against the Blue Devils that Blake has done so. When Blake fouled out with Maryland leading 84-72,Williams had 11 points and 10 turnovers. In last season’s two regular season meetings, Williams had 15 turnovers.
“He controlled the game very well and got us into our offense whenever we had to,” forward Danny Miller said. “It’s going to hurt when your starting point guard goes out.”
The Terrapins (14-5, 5-2) were on the cusp of a startling victory until Blake fouled out. Sophomore Drew Nicholas, a shooting guard who has worked hard to become the team’s backup point guard, endured perhaps the worst two minutes of his basketball playing days.
After making 3 of 4 free throws to help the Terrapins take an 87-77 lead, Nicholas became frazzled. Down the stretch, he made 1 of 4 free throws and was double-teamed in the back court and had the ball wrestled away from him.
“I wouldn’t say nervous, you could say I short-armed the last one,” Nicholas said of his free throw attempts, speaking softly in a nearly silent postgame locker room. “I take full responsibility.”
Duke scored 10 consecutive points in the final minute of regulation to tie the game at 90, then Maryland had a chance to win. Nicholas failed to get the team into a good offensive set and his off-balance three-pointer from deep in the left corner was off the mark.
In overtime, Coach Gary Williams moved shooting guard Juan Dixon to the point, even though Dixon had not played the position since last season.
The Terrapins managed two baskets in overtime — none in the final 3 1 / 2 minutes.
Williams declined to comment on the officiating, citing ACC rules that prevent coaches from criticizing game officials. Even thoughDuke had to foul at the end of regulation to try to get the ball back, the Blue Devils were called for 10 fewer fouls than Maryland (31 to 21) and shot 42 free throws, compared with 28 for Maryland.
The defeat evoked memories of other amazing rallies the Terrapins have been involved in, particularly when they rallied from a 22-point second-half deficit to win at North Carolina, 85-75, during the 1996-97 season. Some reminisced about Maryland’s football team’s 42-40 victory at Miami in 1984, a game that the Terrapins trailed 31-0 at halftime.
Other basketball historians thought back to a 1975 game in which North Carolina came back from an eight-point deficit to beat Duke.Williams remembered losing a game on a half-court shot when he coached at American University and on a 70-foot shot by Syracuse’s Pearl Washington when he was at Boston College.
Saturday’s defeat, undoubtedly, will go down among them in the school’s athletic annals.
“We should have had it won,” Miller said. “You shouldn’t lose that game leading by 10 with a minute left. We just choked. We’ve got to be tougher with the ball. All we’ve got to do is keep the ball and we win the game.”
Now, the Terrapins must regroup for 13th-ranked Virginia.
“I’ve been here before and it’s disappointing,” Williams said. “The test for us will be how ready we get for Virginia on Wednesday.”
While memories of the defeat certainly will linger, some Maryland players said they could find positives in that they played well enough to be in position to beat Duke.
“We just have to take it as another game, a tough loss, and move on,” Miller said. “We still have the whole second half of the ACC season to play.”