The marquee individual matchup of the first meeting between Maryland and Duke turned out to be little more than a lopsided dud. The Terps’ Alex Len asserted himself early with a vicious reverse dunk, but faded down the stretch and wound up with just six field goal attempts. The Blue Devils’ Mason Plumlee, on the other hand, only grew stronger as the game progressed, dominating the second half en route to 19 points and one equally devastating slam.
Maryland freshman Shaquille Cleare defended Plumlee well in the first half, limiting the senior to just three field goal attempts and holding his ground against Plumlee’s back-down attempts. But Cleare became encumbered by foul trouble, playing just three minutes in the second half, while Plumlee never rested after intermission. And while the Terrapins treated the second half like a game of H-O-R-S-E, hoisting wild shots seemingly every possession, Len faded away, finishing in single digits for the first time since New Years’ Day against IUPUI.
“To get into that matchup, obviously Plumlee got the best of it last time,” Coach Mark Turgeon said Friday. “Much older, physically a little bit further along than our guy.”
Len hasn’t topped seven field goal attempts in five straight games now, even when he logged 36 minutes against Virginia Tech. His field goal efficiency hasn’t dipped (50.8 percent in that span), but after attempting at least five free throws 10 times through the Miami game, he’s done it just once since.
After the Duke game, Turgeon gave Len another sobering reality check, telling his sophomore center, “Alex, he looked a lot more fired up to play against you than you did against him.”
“That’s got to change,” Turgeon said. “He’s the guy that’s up for player of the year. You’re just trying to establish yourself. So hopefully when Alex gets the opportunity tomorrow, then he’s really fired up to play against him.”
>> Saturday could mark the final Duke-Maryland game ever in College Park. Coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN’s Andy Katz that the Blue Devils won’t schedule the Terps once Maryland moves to the Big Ten in 2014. It’s on the ACC to reward Maryland with one final home game in the rivalry next season, which doesn’t exactly seem likely.
So until further notice, consider this the matchup’s last hurrah at Comcast Center.
“The crowd will be into it from the start,” Maryland sophomore Nick Faust said. “Just playing here, it could possibly be the last game Duke plays here. We want to go all out and get this win.”
Maryland’s season-high crowds came in the ACC opener against Virginia Tech and the buzzer-beating win over North Carolina State, both sellouts at Comcast Center’s capacity of 17,950. Expect more of the same this time around.
“They’re still 22-2. And they figure ways out to win. That’s what makes Duke who they are,” Turgeon said. “I expect a great crowd. One of the best crowds I’ve ever coached in front of, last year when we played Duke. I just hope our fans come, they stick with us, stay positive with our players, continue to cheer for them, know they have a young team that’s not always playing great but trying as hard as they can.”
Not exactly an inspiring speech from Turgeon, but it’ll have to do for now.
>> Turgeon has fielded 11 starting lineups this season but has kept things constant over the past three games with Jake Layman, James Padgett, Dez Wells, Faust and Len.
Yet only once – at Florida State – have the Terps started three freshmen and two sophomores. Barring any change, Saturday will be the second time.
Smart money has Len and Wells, who haven’t come off the bench since ACC play began, starting alongside Layman and Allen. The fifth spot would be between Cleare (three starts, including at Duke) and Charles Mitchell (four starts). Purely speculating, but given Cleare’s defensive success against Plumlee at Cameron Indoor Stadium, it stands to reason that he’ll get the nod Saturday night. With Faust on the bench and Pe’Shon Howard temporarily suspended, Allen would handle the starting point guard duties.
>>No word yet on Maryland’s jerseys. Since the Terps switched their Gold Rush game to Virginia, odds are Under Armour will have something special planned for Duke. Stay tuned for hard-hitting news on this front.
UPDATE: Word has arrived. Terps will wear their white Maryland Pride uniforms, the same worn against North Carolina State.
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