NCAA basketball: At ACC tournament, Duke pulls away from Maryland

Duke's Miles Plumlee, left, snares a rebound with authority over Maryland's Dino Gregory (33) and Duke's Kyle Singler during the Blue Devils' 87-71 victory.
Duke's Miles Plumlee, left, snares a rebound with authority over Maryland's Dino Gregory (33) and Duke's Kyle Singler during the Blue Devils' 87-71 victory. (John Mcdonnell)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 12, 2011

GREENSBORO, N.C. - In its third and most critical game against Duke over the last 10 weeks, and with a place in the ACC tournament semifinals at stake, the Maryland men's basketball team battled with an aggression and belief that eluded it toward the end of the regular season.

But the outcome was the same as the first two games, with Maryland stumbling down the stretch Friday night and falling, 87-71. The Terrapins were soundly outplayed over the final six minutes following a toe injury that sent Duke's senior point guard, Nolan Smith, hobbling to the sideline.

Smith, the ACC's player of the year, didn't return, and Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he didn't expect to know about Smith's status for Saturday's semifinal until Saturday morning.

The loss brought Maryland's ACC tournament to an end, along with its razor-thin hopes of a berth in the NCAA tournament, which almost certainly would have required four victories at Greensboro Coliseum in four days.

Instead, the Terrapins got just one and finished 1-10 against teams in the top 50 of the RPI, a mathematical measure of teams' strength used by the NCAA tournament selection committee. Now Maryland (19-14) has little to do but await Sunday's National Invitation Tournament selections. It's a fate Maryland's seniors had hoped to avoid, having been relegated to the NIT as freshmen. It will mark Maryland's fourth trip to the NIT in the last seven seasons.

Duke (28-4), the nation's fifth-ranked team and the ACC tournament's No. 2 seed, has beaten the Terrapins in nine of their last 10 meetings.

Maryland, a team that had three freshmen and a sophomore logging major minutes, showed some signs of progress as the season wore on. But that was little comfort in a somber Terrapins locker room after the game.

"We don't get better unless we win," freshman point guard Pe'Shon Howard said. "There's no moral victory. We wanted to win the tournament."

Smith's struggles started well before he injured the second toe on his left foot with 6 minutes 48 seconds to play and Duke leading, 65-60. Smith made just 2 of 11 shots from the field and turned over the ball five times.

With Duke shooting guard Seth Curry also misfiring early, the Blue Devils got the bulk of their offense from senior Kyle Singler, who led the team with 29 points.

Maryland was paced by sophomore center Jordan Williams, who scored 16 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to earn his 25th double-double of the season. However, he made only 2 of 10 free throw attempts.

Senior Cliff Tucker came off the bench for 12 points and had a big hand in keeping the game within reach, with Maryland pulling within one point five times in the second half.

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