By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010; D01
From the perch to which the Maryland men's basketball team ascended Wednesday night at Comcast Center -- first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- the Terrapins could afford to look forward as well as backward.
After its 79-72 victory over Duke -- an opponent the Terrapins had not beaten in six previous tries -- No. 22 Maryland stands with the No. 4 Blue Devils atop the conference standings. With a win Saturday at Virginia -- and a Blue Devils loss to North Carolina -- Maryland (22-7, 12-3) would be ACC regular season champions.
Should both teams win Saturday, the Terrapins would share the ACC regular season title with Duke (25-5, 12-3).
"We went through all that stuff for a reason, and we learned from that and we're not going to disrespect anybody," said guard Greivis Vasquez, who scored a team-high 20 points on senior night. "All those people supporting us or when they were talking bad about us last year, well, it's okay; we forgive them. We're good people. We're good guys. We are the good guys."
As their record currently stands, the Terrapins are in prime position to earn a high seed in the NCAA tournament and, thus, draw a first round location closer to home. Such are the rewards for the teams with the strongest résumés.
After falling at Duke by 21 points on Feb. 13, Maryland reeled off five straight wins and entered Wednesday night's contest with considerable momentum. The Terrapins had won by sizable margins and via dramatic comebacks.
On Wednesday, Maryland won by showing off all phases of its development. The Terrapins took a 14-point lead in the first half by dominating Duke in transition. The Blue Devils did not score a fast-break point all night.
Near the end of the first half, Maryland's up-tempo clip was halted when Duke switched to a zone defense. By halftime, the Blue Devils had cut their deficit to two.
"When they went zone, we just really stopped moving and it really screwed us up," Hayes said. "In the second half, they came back firing as well. But we just stuck with our offense and kept attacking and we made some big plays on the offensive end just to keep ourselves in the game."
Junior guard Adrian Bowie played a significant role in keeping Duke from extending its lead after the break. Bowie shot 4 for 4 from the field and tallied nine points, but it was the manner in which he operated that impressed his coach.
"When Adrian's aggressive, he's really good," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "Not just defensively, but offensively. He came down a couple of times on the break and he knew what he wanted to do. To have a guard like that come off the bench, and obviously Adrian would like to be starting. You know, I think he looks at himself as a starter for next year with Eric and Greivis gone, which is great because that was as good of plays as any guard out there made tonight."
Williams also could see promise in the performance of freshman forward Jordan Williams, who had struggled against Duke's front court in the teams' first matchup. Jordan Williams finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, his sixth double-double.
As Maryland and Duke traded possession of the lead down the stretch, the Terrapins' offense rediscovered its rhythm. Maryland shot 50 percent from the field on the night and won the rebounding battle, 36-35.
Hayes, who was honored alongside fellow seniors Vasquez and Milbourne in a pregame ceremony, spoke afterward about the momentum the Terrapins will carry into Saturday's regular season finale. But others wanted the weight of Wednesday night's win to resonate just a bit longer.
"I'm really happy, not just for our seniors, but for our team," said Gary Williams, whose teams have collected victories over top 10 opponents in each of the past 14 seasons. "We got dogged pretty good last year when I didn't think we deserved it. We proved that we were a pretty good team last year, and to pick it up this year and do what we did, I'm proud of that."