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Duke Slugs Terps, 93-84

When Duke played Pitt in the Garden, Pitt basically out-toughed Duke down the stretch. Duke is going to lose some games this season, but they looked determined not to be out-toughed, a point they proved again in College Park, coming back to beat Maryland, 93-84.

And it wasn't easy; hasn't been easy in College Park in a long time. You could tell what was coming if you listened to Bob "The Truth" Harris on the pre-game show and heard the intensity of the crowd when Duke came out. There was never any question about the desire to beat Duke, and the Terps came out and they were really, really jacked up to the crowd's level. James Gist and Bambale Osby, in particular, were sensational, and in the first half, they were totally dominant inside.

But despite that, Duke was right in the thick of it, until about the 7:00 minute mark of the first half, when Maryland really caught fire and threatened to blow the game open. They went into the half with a 51-42 point lead, and at that point, they were, by far, the tougher team.

Things changed after halftime, and quickly.

In the first two minutes and two seconds, Duke scored six points, including a basket by Lance Thomas followed immediately by a DeMarcus Nelson steal and layup. That set the tone for a much tougher performance by the Blue Devils. One of the reasons Duke kept up in the first half was that they kept taking the ball away from Maryland, and Nelson's steal led the way to quite a few more, as Duke ended up forcing 22 turnovers.

Whatever you think of Maryland basketball under coach Gary Williams, you have to admire their ability to ratchet their emotional game up to the highest level. Seeing the Terps reach that level, and the immense passion they bring to the game has become one of the signature moments of an ACC season, most recently seen in Chapel Hill.

Yet it at times is also their Achilles heel, because if you can match it, they don't always know what to do. Passion is a great strength at Maryland; counter-punching depends on personnel.

When Duke refused to back down, Gary called a timeout. Maryland kept swinging, but the offense basically consisted of Gist and Osby, with cameso by Landon Milbourne and Grievis Vasquez, who hit two and three shots respectively, and a late, meaningless three by Eric Hayes.

Duke in short couldn't contain the two big men, but they essentially shut the perimeter down. And what's more, while they were outclassed on the boards in the first half, in the second half, and particularly in the clutch, Duke more than held their own on the boards, and they worked harder than Maryland did to get to loose balls. Duke also managed to push Gist and, to a lesser extent, Osby, further away from the basket.

One remarkable aspect of the game was that Duke managed to play Maryland's frontcourt to a standstill in the latter part of the game despite subpar games from the frontcourt and significant foul trouble for Kyle Singler and Greg Paulus. Kyle Singler only managed seven points, Lance Thomas six, and Dave McClure and Taylor King didn't scratch. Between the four players, they had seven rebounds, less than half of what Osby managed by himself.

An enormous amount of credit goes to Greg Paulus, Nolan Smith, Gerald Henderson, and most of all, DeMarcus Nelson, who was superb. Nelson had a career high 27, and he also grabbed seven boards, had four steals, led the team with four assists and played his heart out on defense. He is becoming one of Duke's better captains in recent years.

Henderson wound up with 23 points and he had a remarkably steady game. His challenge has been to develop the basketball skills and judgment to match his extraordinary talent. This may have been his best overall game at Duke.

Greg Paulus had a solid game, with 12 points and only one turnover and he also had four swipes.

But one of the brightest performances was by Nolan Smith, who returned to his homestate and had his best game so far at Duke. The rookie scored 14 and grabbed six boards and was by far Duke's best reserve.

Jon Scheyer, who has been a tremendous sixth man, had a pretty modest game by his recent standards, with four points and three boards.

What's really fun about this team is that you don't always know where it's going to come from, at least offensively, and it must be hard to prepare for. Taylor King might rattle off ten points in a hurry; Gerald Henderson might block a shot out of bounds; Nolan Smith pretty clearly knows his way to the basket.

Defense though, is pretty consistent. When asked what Duke did to force 22 turnovers, Gary said this, according to the Post: "Same thing they do to all the other teams in the ACC. They overplay [the passing lanes], lots of contact."

Gary didn't say it, but contact cuts both ways (check this for proof).

A word about Maryland: this team isn't even in the same time zone as the team that lost to American. It's hard to even see how that could have happened. They have some issues - ball handling, obviously - but if you ask us, they belong in the tournament.

And don't think they're done with Duke. Here's what James Gist says:

"When they come back, you've just got to go harder. You best believe I have that date circled on my calendar when we go back down there."