Maryland Stays Close, but Still Falls to Duke in Men's Basketball
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The measuring stick Maryland used to determine how far it had come since the last time it faced its most hated rival resided not on the scoreboard or the stat sheet, but in the words emanating from its defeated players.
Once again, the Terrapins could not match the skill and precision of No. 7 Duke, and Maryland dropped a 78-67 decision last night at Comcast Center that damaged its hopes of an NCAA tournament berth.
But a team that one month ago seemed destined to wander aimlessly through the remainder of its ACC slate demonstrated a mental turnaround that has produced a more encouraging outlook.
"When we played them the first time, they absolutely blew us out, and they were the better team," sophomore guard Adrian Bowie said. "But this time, it was a different story. They still came out with a win, but we showed the difference in how much better we have gotten."
On Jan. 24, Duke thrashed Maryland by 41 points in Durham N.C. Maryland Coach Gary Williams said afterward that the second half of that game served more as a learning tool for a still-developing team.
Last night, the second half bore no resemblance to the teams' previous encounter. The lead changed hands seven times, as neither squad was able to sustain any of its bursts of momentum. Duke finally was able to pull away when it embarked on a 16-5 run with just less than seven minutes remaining.
Junior forward Landon Milbourne emerged from his offensive slumber to lead the Terrapins with 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Bowie added 14, and junior guard Eric Hayes chipped in 10 off the bench.
The context of their performance made it all the more impressive. Junior guard Greivis Vasquez, one game removed from his first career triple-double, sat out nearly 10 minutes of the second half because of foul trouble and eventually fouled out with more than three minutes to go. Freshman guard Sean Mosley, one of the team's top defenders, turned his left ankle and sat out a portion of the second half, as well.
Still, with less than four minutes remaining, Duke led by just four. The Blue Devils insisted upon returning to the small lineup in which they began the night, even though that meant keeping their biggest asset against a size-challenged Maryland squad -- 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek -- on the bench.
Duke (23-5, 9-4 ACC) wanted to push the tempo and survive off perimeter shots. And though the Blue Devils shot 42.1 percent from three-point range and made 3 of 4 three-point attempts in their game-changing run, they could not shake the Terrapins, who were intent on proving their recent development was no fluke.
Maryland (17-10, 6-7) has developed a habit of atoning for previous embarrassments this ACC season. After blowing a 17-point second-half lead at Miami on Jan. 14, Maryland recovered to defeat the Hurricanes at home 17 days later. After giving up 108 points at North Carolina on Feb. 3, the Terrapins turned around and defeated the Tar Heels in College Park on Saturday.
"We earned the right to think that we could win the game; that's how it always works with a team," Williams said. "A coach can say we're good enough to win this game, but that doesn't mean anything. The players have to believe it. We believe we can win, and that's been the key."
Hayes viewed the loss in the parameters of his team's defensive improvement. Milbourne commended the team's intensity, which has been more consistent over the past few weeks, he said.
There was little question in the players' eyes that Duke remains the superior unit. Bowie described subtle skills -- such as collecting loose balls, making free throws and hitting open shots -- that contribute to a team's ability to finish off opponents, areas in which the Blue Devils thrived last night. Milbourne's assessment was more wide-ranging.
"I just know tonight that we did definitely play hard for the majority of the game, but a game's played in 40 minutes," Milbourne said. "We have to be able to do that for 40 minutes."
Cognizant of the deficiencies that still remain, Williams and his players proclaimed the arrival of a team with unbridled will, one unafraid to lose because it understands the scoreboard is not always a true reflection of talent or potential.
"Down there, we just didn't play," Williams said. "There wasn't anything about our game that should have made it closer than it was. But, you know, if you're a team, you learn from that. You don't accept it. It happened, but you don't accept it. You do something about it. Things don't have to stay the same, and I think that's what we've done. We've tried to rise up and be a competitive team with anybody we play the rest of the way."