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Third Time's The Charm: Duke 67, Maryland 61

It took awhile to get in the position to do it, but Duke knocked off Maryland, 67-61, in the ACC semifinals for the chance to play Florida State Sunday for the ACC Championship.

Can we start off with a word about Maryland?  It's impossible to overstate admiration for this team.  The 2002 National Champions (we thought we'd work it in for Gary's sake) may have been a better team, but we're not sure they're a better distillation of what Gary Williams wants out of a team.  These guys were absolutely awful earlier this year.  People were saying that they might not win three ACC games - remember?

Yet at the end, there they are, a beautiful, cohesive, deeply impressive team. Yes, they have some serious limitations.  But they play together, they cover for each other, and they are as fine a team (meaning a group working together as opposed to just wins and losses) as Maryland has seen.

One of the reasons why we like this game so much is because five guys who really know how to work together can overcome five guys who are far better. It's not like that, really, in any other sport, certainly not at a breakneck speed.  The only possible exception is hockey, and you can win in that sport 1-0.

Anyway, we hope the Maryland fans who were booing earlier are thoroughly embarrassed.  This has become a wonderful team and one of the best ACC stories of the season.

That said, it was clear Duke was probably going to win by the mid-way point of the second half: the Devils kept Maryland from scoring a basket from the 18:02 mark to the 12:52 mark.  Greivis Vasquez was limited to two baskets in the half, one about halfway through, and the other with 8:33 to go.

Still, Maryland kept fighting. Near the end, after Duke had put together a 13 point lead, Maryland cut it back down, closing to to 66-61 with 18 second left.  Eric Hayes, who was largely forgotten about for a while this year, scored 11 points in the last 1:20 of the game.

Fortunately for Duke, the lead was dented but never lost. And unlike some recent games, Duke went to the line eight times in the final minute and hit six of those eight.

Statistically, while Duke didn't shoot that well, neither did Maryland: Duke managed 36.4% to Maryland's 39.7%, which is more testimony to defensive effort than anything else.  Duke won despite only one starter - on Scheyer - shooting well (6-12).  Kyle Singler was 3-12, Gerald Henderson 3-4, Elliot Williams 1-4, and Lance Thomas took only one shot, missing it.

But in a nice and timely development, Duke's bench contributed much more than they did against B.C., with 19 points total.  Ten of those were from Nolan Smith, who continues to re-integrate himself into the lineup.   Greg Paulus hit a three, and Dave McClure hit for six.

We were pleased to hear Mike Gminski, commenting for Raycom, go on for a bit about McClure, pointing out, correctly, that things tend to happen when he's in the game.  Six points is a lot for him; he's not a big scorer.  There's no measurement for tipped rebounds or forcing a driver to the baseline.  There's no real way to measure when a guy subordinates himself to the team.  Duke is extremely lucky that all four of their primary reserves do this   All four of them are former starters (how often can you say that?) and all four come in and give their all.  How great is that?  You don't to look far from Durham to see what can happen if this fails.  Try Raleigh for instance.

Amazingly, once you get past free throws in the box score, the stats for these two teams are nearly identical down the line.  Each grabbed 28 rebounds total, although Duke had 14 offensive boards to Maryland's 12.  Each had five steals, four blocks and eleven turnovers.  Duke had 11 assists to Maryland's seven, and 18 fouls to the Terp's 13.

The biggest differences?  Duke hit nine threes to Maryland's four and 18 foul shots to Maryland's seven.

Duke won with a solid defensive effort, superior three point shooting, and in spite of a rough shooting afternoon by almost everyone.  Still, they did win. A big part of the reason why they're winning in Atlanta is the play of Kyle Singler.  He's played 80 minute so far, and, as Jim Young of points out, he appears to be getting stronger.

He'll need to be Sunday, and so will everyone else.  It took Duke awhile to get over the last game with Florida State.  Scheyer seems to be over his tweaked ankle, but Brian Zoubek's nose was broken and that takes a while, and Thomas's ankle may be functioning well enough, but we're guessing, given what they said at the time, that it's not 100%.

FSU was magnificent against UNC. They're big, tough and physical, and if Duke wins, they'll have earned it.

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