Maryland gave Duke a real test in Cameron Sunday night before falling, 71-64. For much of the game, Maryland was more aggressive and tougher, but in the end, in the stretch run, Duke put it together to pull it. In some respects, after a sluggish first half and a sluggish start to the second, Tyler Thornton was the key.
If you've watched Duke basketball for long, you'll recognize the scene: Coach K, irritated with his team's play, looks down the bench and calls for a reserve, in this case, Thornton.
As soon as he came in, the defensive dynamo began to pressure Maryland's ballhandlers. In just 12 minutes of action, Thornton had four steals,Â drew a charge on Maryland's Jordan Williams and also stripped a rebound from the big man.Â For dessert, he tossed in an unlikely basket.
Although Duke had rallied after being down 38-32, they weren't playing with their normal verve and at times seemed reluctant to attack. But Thornton was the spark that lit the fuse:
His first steal came with Duke down a point.Â Seth Curry hit five quick ones to put Duke up six.Â Maryland hung around, but they never threatened again.
On a night when Maryland contained Nolan Smith (just 5-18) and only Kyle Singler and Curry scored consistently, Thornton's contributions were incredibly important.
This was an important game for Curry as well:Â the sophomore came through for Duke when they really needed him. It must've been an enormous confidence boost.
Singler also stepped up his game, hitting 10-19 for 25 points and showing as much toughness as anyone on Maryland's team.Â He also grabbed 10 boards. This game, he was absolutely critical and came through big time.
We have to give props to Maryland as well.Â Jordan Williams is the real deal. He's going to be a load for everybody.Â Cliff Tucker had a solid game as well and was particularly dangerous late when he hit two key three pointers to keep Maryland alive.Â Dino Gregory and Sean Mosely were also key contributors.
The Terps were very physical and aggressive; after the game, Gary Williams suggested that these had been points of emphasis for his team. Nolan Smith found out first hand: several of his drives ended up blocked.
Where Maryland is currently hurting though is when they get past those players and Adrian Bowie, who has long since proven himself a competent ACC player ( although he didn't offer much in this game).
Terrell Stoglin got the nod at point guard, but the rookie was just 1-10 from the floor, although the Tucson native may well have had reason to be distracted given the events this week in his hometown.
Pe'Shon Howard played 10 minutes and had four turnovers.
Still, this is a team which has improved rapidly and it still has upside.
They'll play six games between now and the rematch with Duke - at Wake Forest and Villanova, followed by Virginia Tech and Clemson at home and trips to Virginia and Georgia Tech before the second game with the Devils. We would favor them in every game other than Villanova.
They will have improved a lot by the time these two meet again and they should certainly take a lot of confidence out of their trip to Cameron. If they can get steady play out of either Howard or Stoglin, and pair that with the toughness we saw in Cameron, Maryland might become a dark horse team in March.