It was an eventful game in College Park, full of drama and low comedy.Â The game was really taut and well-played. After a back-and-forth battle, Duke finally pulled away for a 78-67 win and sole possession of second place in the ACC.
And the low comedy? The prank attempted by Maryland fans to keep the Duke team awake. We'll return to that in a bit.
It was clear at the beginning that Maryland not only wanted revenge for the beating they took in Durham, but that they believed they could win and had a plan which worked through the first half: move the ball fast and drive as much as possible.
Maryland had 10 or 12 first half layups, and the emotion that success generated led to a lot of jumpers as well.Â Things went well for the Terps in the first half, and Landon Milbourne, in particular, hadÂ a great half.Â As Mike Patrick said, if you just guessed the score, you'd guess Maryland was up by six or so.Â But by the end of the half, DukeÂ had pulled even and just missed going ahead when Milbourne blocked a Brian Zoubek shot at the buzzer.
In the second half, the Devils began to assert themselves, taking the lead early and holding it for about 10 minutes.Â Maryland got it back briefly, twice, and the game stayed tight until Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler hit back-to-back threes to put Duke up, 66-60, and that was about it for the Terps.Â But the final dagger was put in on a pass by Elliot Williams to Jon Scheyer. When Scheyer hit Duke's last three with 1:54 left, to put Duke up by nine, 72-63, according to Coach K, the look in their eyes changed.Â They called an immediate timeout, and from there on, it was just a question of time and hitting free throws.
One of the big - no pun intended - factors in the Cameron blowout was Brian Zoubek, who dominated the Terps inside.Â In this game, with Duke's smaller lineup, the Devils generally lacked that advantage, and their new lineup was easier for the Terps to deal with.Â But Zoubek, when he was in the game, was still a factor.Â It reminds us of when Maryland had big Will Bowers and they used him to just beat Duke senseless while Shavlik Randolph was recuperating from mono.Â Duke just couldn't match him.
Maryland has no answer for Brian Zoubek.Â He only played eight minutes, but he had a big impact on the game. At the end of the first half he got in and blocked a shot, grabbed three rebounds and hit a pair of free throws in short order.Â He helped Duke to pull even. It won't be much noticed in the writeups, but it was a key stretch.
But more critical was the play of Gerald Henderson and Elliot Williams and, indirectly, the injury Nolan Smith suffered.
For a guy who's only starting his third game, Williams is playing pretty well.Â He shot 6-8, grabbed six boards, had no turnovers, and helped Duke to hold Greivis Vasquez in check with only 10 points (you may have noticed him: he was the guy on the bench frequently with a blank look on his face).
Henderson finished with 19 points on 7-18 shooting, and also had six boards and four blocks.Â And Nolan Smith - or more accurately Dave Neal - had something to do with that.
When Smith bounced off of Neal's hard pick in the second half, Henderson went off.Â You have to kind of guess that the two sons of former NBA stars have some things in common. Whatever their bond, Henderson went off like a bomb after Smith was hurt.Â He first threw down perhaps his best dunk ever, charging down the lane and shot up like a man possessed.Â A quiet, dignified player generally, he, emoted quite a bit.
After that, he blocked a shot on the other end and then scored another jumper.
Smith, meanwhile, left the court after holding his head for several minutes while sitting on the bench.Â He was obviously shaken up and in a lot of discomfort. But he helped to answer two big questions: #1: was Duke satisfied to be nice guys, or can the Devils get down and dirty?Â And #2: after a season of being dismissed as a YMCA player and people wondering what he could possibly do, Dave Neal finally found something he could do.Â Maryland fans will love him forever.
After the game, Henderson said this: "It made us very angry, very angry.Â It was a clean play, but when one of your guys goes out like he did, it gets you emotional -- especially for me because Nolan is one of my best friends. You hate to see that."
And speaking of Maryland fans, here's what we think about their attempted prank of calling Duke hotel rooms all night: pretty weak, and here's why.Â Because, quite simply, they might just as well have run up a white flag and said there's no way we can beat Duke on a level playing field.
Inadvertently,Â they underscored the long-running truth of the Maryland world, from Gary on down. There's a raging, Costanza-size insecurity at the root of their self-identity.Â It's what leads Gary to yell at the refs in the Final Four, "how much do you want Duke to win!"Â It's why fans pick fights when they lose. It's why they throw bottles and heated pennies at their conquerors
The reality is that at the heart of the Maryland athletic identity, they expect to lose.Â And because of that, they take as much, if not more pleasure in making other people miserable as they do in their own successes.
In short, it'sÂ a loser attitude which often rebounds on them.Â Which is why no one should get too bent out of shape over this one.Â Wait for a few hours and you'll see bitter complaints about the officiating as well.Â Which again is fine, because it means they're focused on being losers.Â And that's great - for Duke.
Actually, cancel the wait - Gary's first up: "Very physical game. It's interesting. As you know, I can't say anything."
Next up for the Devils is a near repeat of this game: a trip to Blacksburg for a desperate Virginia Tech, deep into their annual panic over making the tournament.Â Like Maryland, they're still seething over the whipping Duke laid on them in Durham, and like Maryland, they're going to come after Duke in a big way.
But perhaps not with phone calls.