The passions that fuel college basketball were on wild display Wednesday at Comcast Center, where Maryland hosted arch rival Duke after paying tribute to former coach Gary Williams’s 22 years of service by naming the arena floor in his honor.
But after clawing and scraping to hang with the eighth-ranked Blue Devils most of the game, Maryland let the upset it wanted so badly slip away over the final minutes and fell, 74-61.
It was the Terrapins’ third consecutive loss, dropping them to 12-7 overall, 2-3 in the ACC.
Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon commended his Terps for following the game plan he’d drawn up to stop the high-scoring Blue Devils, who arrived in College Park averaging 80.5 points per game. As instructed, they closely marked Duke’s guards, limited them to just three three-pointers.
But with Maryland’s 7-foot-1 center Alex Len hobbling on a sprained ankle and limited by early fouls, Duke’s elder Plumlee proved too much of a handful for Maryland’s James Padgett and Ashton Pankey to control, despite a game effort by both.
“What I saw tonight was encouraging,” Turgeon said. “Defensively, we’re growing up. We didn’t win the game, but we hung around until about the three-minute mark against a really good team.”
Maryland led by as many as eight in the first half. But with sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin well defended, Duke took a 37-34 lead to the break.
Duke’s front-court advantage became even more evident in the second half. In the end, the Blue Devils outrebounded the Terps, 36-31, and outscored Maryland in the paint, 40-28.
And in the facet of the game in which Maryland could have helped itself most — free throw shooting — the Terps instead undermined their cause, making just 11 of 21 attempts.
Stoglin led Maryland with 16 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the field, but he missed all four of his three-point attempts.
“We did a great job on defense,” said senior guard Sean Mosley, who fouled out with roughly two minutes remaining. “But in the second half we didn’t guard, and the shots we usually make didn’t fall for us.”
The festivities began 15 minutes before tip-off, when Williams strode onto the court to deafening cheers and delivered his signature fist pump — the final such gesture he’d ever make, he later explained. He took his place center court after a three-minute video paid tribute to “a kid from South Jersey,” chronicling Williams’s rise from scrappy Terrapins guard to eager high school coach to successful young college coach who, in 1989, returned to College Park to take the reins of his alma mater.
Williams thanked Maryland’s fans for the honor of the court dedication — from Wednesday on, officially Gary Williams Court — and acknowledged the players who, he said, had always been the real story. He thanked his former assistants and, above all, Maryland’s students.
“You helped us win a lot of games,” Williams said, as the students jumped and bellowed. “You have a great opportunity tonight to do the same thing for Mark Turgeon and Maryland basketball.”
The lineage was clear as the first half unfolded.
Like so many of Williams’s teams, Turgeon’s 2011-12 squad is hardly the most skilled, highly recruited or physically imposing. But the Terps battled with all they had against the favored Blue Devils.
Point guard Pe’Shon Howard (10 points) flashed a welcome assertiveness, taking 10 shots. Mosley, Pankey and Padgett defended fiercely.
When Mychal Parker’s free throw nudged the Terps to a 22-19 lead, fans delivered a group fist pump, as instructed in the commemorative newspapers draped on each of the arena’s 17,950 seats, in honor of Williams.
Padgett drove for a final bucket to pull the Terps within three points at the break.
Len returned early in the second half and hit a fadeaway jumper to put Maryland up, 45-42.
But Duke’s Austin Rivers, held to two points in the first half, hit back-to-back buckets to retake the lead. Soon after the Terps went 4 minutes 57 seconds without a field goal.
And Duke pulled away as one Terp after another rushed shots in a frenzy to close the gap.