By Chris Knoche
Just over two weeks ago the Maryland Terrapins squared off against the Duke Blue Devils in front of a rabid packed house of 17,900 at Comcast Center. The young Terps executed Head Coach Mark Turgeons game plan to near perfection. The successfully hawked the Duke guards on the perimeter and effectively took the three point shot a primary Blue Devil weapon- out of their arsenal. Duke guards shot a combined 3-16 from behind the arc for the game.
Maryland also handled the ball more than adequately against Dukes solid half court defense and ended the game with only eight turnovers.
They also lost 74-61.
How does it happen that you execute a game plan as well as the Terps did and you lose by double digits at home?
Well, first, the score was very deceptive. Maryland led in the first half and trailed by only three at the break. They last lead came with 12:55 remaining but were within just five points with less than 7 minutes to play.
Second, there is the a bit of a talent gap that Turgeons team was able to mitigate with effort and a great home court advantage.
Ultimately it happened because Duke did what Duke does. They adapted and countered the Maryland strategy in this case by attacking inside relentlessly. Duke forward Mason Plumlee had 23 points and 12 rebounds and was the best player on the court by a long shot. Dukes Ryan Kelly a matchup nightmare as a 611 small forward- capably chipped in 14 points and the Devils seemed to dominate around the basket.
Duke also benefited from Terrapins struggles on the offensive end. While they didnt turn the ball over much in the game, the Terps went through three protracted scoring droughts in the loss. One drought against Duke may be the tipping point in the game. Two means youll have limited chances to win. Three and you have no chance.
Sometimes there can be some simple and cruel math to the equation in these games. Maryland had three stretches of four minutes plus where they did not score. Thats twelve minutes of scoreless ball in a forty minute contest.
To compete in the game on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Maryland will need to blend elements from their game plan at Comcast with a couple of other essentials that come along with being effective on the road.
A little luck wouldnt hurt, either.
The Terrapin strategy of forcing the Duke interior to win the game for them amounts to a pick your poison kind of choice. Turgeon and company simply chose to try and limit the explosive Duke backcourt of Andre Dawkins, Austin Rivers and Seth Curry from deep. That group shot a combined 1-12 from three. That might not ever happen again with shooters like that. While Rivers got loose for a couple of driving hoops in the second half, the Maryland staff had to be ecstatic at the thought of the threesome totaling just 21 points between them for the night.
Given the fact that his Terps seem to be getting better offensively on an almost daily basis, Turgeon will probably employ a similar thought process in getting ready for this game. Force the Plumlee brothers and the Duke bench to be the difference makers.
In that first contest Maryland freshman center Alex Len played only 12 minutes. Since that game he played his two best games of the season at Miami and against the tall timber of North Carolina. Foul trouble notwithstanding, this guy needs to be on the floor. The Terps are far more formidable on both ends when hes playing. He wont completely stop Plumlee. He wont back down either. If the officials let Len play without calling some of the touch fouls he can be susceptible to hell play just fine in this game. When he goes to the bench with fouls he is rarely the same player when he comes back in.
In the first game at Maryland the Terrapin backcourt was able to regularly attack the Duke backcourt off the dribble. As good as the Devil guards are offensively, theyre not locking down anyone on the defensive end and the Terps got to the basket at will. That will change some in Cameron because Duke is much more stout defensively at home and the environment may have an impact on some of the choices Maryland players make offensively. Look for Turgeon to use his timeouts early and often if he senses team struggles and bad choices on the offensive end.
Because Duke is so well coached and so efficient they are almost impossible to beat if they hold a lead of more than a few points down the stretch of the game. A lot of times, the trick in Cameron is simply to hang in there, keep playing hard and match the Duke intensity in the early going. If the Terps are in it at halftime they will likely be in it for the game.
There is no telling what kind of effect Dukes how did they do that win against arch-rival North Carolina on Wednesday night will have on them as they prepare for the Terps. Whenever you got into Cameron you have to assume youll get their best shot. This Duke team has already lost two close conference games at home this year. The thought of losing a third is almost inconceivable to most Duke die-hards.
The luck part of the equation comes into play in a couple of areas. First, Duke was almost perfect from the free throw line at Comcast, making 17-18. A couple of misses here and there would be nice.
The other part comes with a couple of timely officials calls.
Lets be clear about this, referees have not cost Maryland one game this season. For the most part the games have been administered with the same quality they always have (take that any way you want to). That said, there appeared to beat least a few calls down the stretch in that first game that went Dukes way and could have gone either way. When youre playing against an opponent with that kind of quality and that kind of coaching, getting a few of those calls to go your way can be huge.
That Maryland has improved since the last meeting is probably not up for argument. They also finally proved they could win on the road by virtue of their 64-62 win at Clemson on Tuesday night.
Winning at Cameron will take an entirely different kind of effort.