For the second straight Maryland-Duke meeting, the highly anticipated low-post matchup between Alex Len and Mason Plumlee turned into a dud. Except unlike at Cameron Indoor Stadium in late January, when the senior Plumlee punctuated a dominating performance with an acrobatic reverse slam that topped “SportsCenter,” this time the Terps’ Ukrainian sophomore came out on top.
And it wasn’t even close.
Plumlee performed the type of disappearing act that, up until Saturday night, had characterized Len’s topsy-turvy, inconsistent season. He touched home an early cross-court alley-oop but made only one other field goal: a mid-range turnaround less than four minutes into the game. Both field goals came within a span of less than six minutes. He played 33.
Venturing to College Park was Duke’s fourth game and second road trip in nine days. The fatigue showed.
“We’re playing on fumes, and I think you could tell that,” Blue Devils Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Mason looked exhausted the whole game. He’s been great. We’ll keep at him; we believe in him, but that’s what happens.”
All week, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon had challenged Len to rebound from his dismal second half in the first game against the Blue Devils, calling Len “Plumlee’s little brother” and saying he needed to “establish himself” against the national player of the year candidate.
Len finished the rematch with 19 points and nine rebounds. He attempted eight free throws and swatted three shots. Plumlee, on the other hand, finished with four points (2 of 7 shooting), three rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, and no blocks. He was also missed both of his free throws, which came with Duke down seven points with 4:56 left, emblematic of his team’s struggles.
“He’s really strong,” Len said of Plumlee. “Strong and athletic. He can run. He’s just a really good player.”
So what made the difference?
“I played strong,” Len said. “Didn’t jump on his pump-fakes and stuff.”
Shaquille Cleare, earning his fourth career start and second against Duke, drew the initial defensive assignment against Plumlee, bodying up any back-down attempts. In a whistle-riddled game, Cleare managed to stay out of foul trouble, finishing with just one in 15 minutes. Whenever Cleare sat, Len or James Padgett guarded Plumlee, but Duke’s forward said his disappointing night had little to do with Maryland’s defense.
“I don’t think it was so much their defensive coverage,” Plumlee said. “I just have to show up. I didn’t show up to play today and I let my teammates down. That’s not how I’ve played all season. I hope it doesn’t happen again. It’s all on me.”
>> Turgeon surprised a few folks when he casually announced that he had stripped both Pe’Shon Howard and James Padgett of their captaincy. Howard was temporarily suspended by Turgeon earlier this week for a violation of team rules.
Padgett said the decision was less about something he did to earn a demotion and more about Turgeon retaking control of the team. Walk-ons Spencer Barks and Jacob Susskind did the customary pregame captains’ handshake at midcourt instead.
“He just wanted everyone to be a leader, stepping up, making sure that he knows that he’s the real leader,” Padgett said. “He’s the head of the team, and everyone else should do the best they can to lead. He’s the captain.”
Sounds like commitment is an issue. Wouldn’t you say, Turgeon?
“If we can be committed to being a good teammate, committed to being good leaders … I stripped guys of being captains this week. I’m the captain of the team. If we’re just committed, that’s all I want.”
>> Also sounds like the Terps are pretty tight-lipped on Howard’s situation.
“We’re just going to keep that in the locker room,” Allen said.
Said Faust: “I don’t think that distracted us at all.”
Turgeon said he will reevaulate Howard’s situation Sunday, determining whether to reinstate the junior or suspend him for further games.
>> For some time, it seemed that Duke guard Seth Curry would single-handedly will his second-ranked team back into the game. Curry — brother of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who later that evening fell short in the NBA’s three-point contest, shot 11 for 17 from the field and 8 for 10 on two-pointers — hitting a dazzling array of pull-up jumpers off curl cuts and difficult runners in the lane. He finished with a game-high 25 points, including a step-back three-pointer with 59 seconds left that pulled the Blue Devils within two points.
“He was phenomenal at the start, and he did it off the drive,” Turgeon said. “Our whole game plan was they’ve got to beat us from twos. They were 1 for 6 [on three-pointers] at halftime. Being who we are, we broke down a bit in the second half. They missed some open ones for us, but we did a nice job.
“And Seth Curry, the kid’s a winner. He just makes big shots. That step-back three over Dez, Dez was right there. He misses that, game’s not as close, we’re in the double bonus. But he makes it, makes it tough. He was good. I thought we did a great job on him the second half.”
>> The court-storming, in the Terps’ words:
Seth Allen: “I was hot. Everybody was grabbing me. They picked me up and I just tried to get out of there.”
Nick Faust: “It took me probably 10 minutes to get to the locker room. They were grabbing me, pulling my hair. Everything they could to touch me. They didn’t try to pick me up, but girls were trying to kiss my jersey.”
>> Finally, the two best pictures you’ll see from last night.