While Smith’s injury — to his second toe — could spell doom for Duke this weekend and in the postseason if it is serious, it might have saved the Blue Devils on Friday. Curry, who had been almost as bad as Smith most of the night, became a different player once the ball was in his hands, scoring seven of his 11 points during the Duke run and setting up two other baskets with pretty feeds inside.
“I just kind of went back to last year when I ran the [second-team] offense in practice,” he said, referring to his redshirt season in 2009-10. “I just tried to get us into our offensive sets.”
With Curry not forcing matters the way Smith had, a distracted Duke team suddenly became a very focused one. After Jordan Williams’s missed free throws, Duke went on a 9-1 run with Curry involved in all nine points. That upped the margin to 74-61 and punched Maryland’s NIT ticket.
Maryland came here hoping to top the Miracle of 2004, when it won three games as a lower seed to win the ACC title. It would have needed four wins this weekend, but the case can be made that this game might have been the biggest roadblock if only because Duke has historically been such a tough out for Maryland. Gary Williams has had far more success through the years against North Carolina than against Duke.
“A tournament like this you want to get the first win because then you’re playing on adrenaline,” Williams said before the game. “I wasn’t sure [Thursday] night how we’d come out against N.C. State. Tonight, I feel confident that we’ll come out and play.”
He smiled: “Of course, the opponent tonight might be a little bit tougher.”
The main failing for Williams’s team this season was its inconsistency. The freshman guards — Stoglin and Pe’Shon Howard — showed great potential on some nights and Gregory played well more often than not, but Maryland’s coach didn’t know from night to night what he was going to get from anyone except his sophomore center. Everyone else was throw-the-ball-up-and-hope.
The last hope went a-glimmering shortly after Smith sat down on the Duke bench and took his left sneaker off. Oh sure, the NIT is a chance for the young players to gain some experience, but Maryland doesn’t play basketball to compete in the NIT. Nor does its coach.
“This too shall end,” he said Friday night.
He was talking about the ups and downs of the season. It ended much sooner than he hoped, at least the games with real meaning. But in a sense, it couldn’t end soon enough.
For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.