Thursday, March 01, 2007

Maryland 85 Duke 77

Two seasons ago in the midst of the John Gilchrist agony Maryland also swept Duke. Those wins were not enough to garner an NCAA bid for the 2004 Terrapins as they limped into the NIT with a third loss to Clemson in the ACC tournament. The Duke team of that season was far superior to the 2006 version of the Blue Devils but in an odd twist the current Maryland team is vastly superior to the Terrapin team from two years ago. Gary Williams merry bunch went down to Durham and soundly defeated Duke in their worst loss at home since Maryland beat them 75-66 in January of 2005.

It was a slightly bizarre night as ESPN, the self proclaimed "world wide leader in sports", couldn't even broadcast the game without interruptions in the signal. Watchers were forced to endure the worst color radio broadcast in the history of college basketball as Dick Vitale not only didn't say anything worth listening to, which usually doesn't matter when you can see the action, but also prevented Mike Patrick's efforts to switch to a radio style play-by-play. He was too busy discussing the latest edifice to Coach K on the Durham campus.

From what I did see Maryland was able to sustain the high level of effort they have the last five victories. Duke wanted this game in the worst way and Maryland didn't notch its sixth win because the Blue Devils were not playing with great intensity. Besides Josh McRoberts, who struggled in the game, the Duke players performed at a high level and may have gotten the best game of the season from maligned point guard Greg Paulus. It still wasn't enough to best the streaking Terrapins. Behind some hot 3-point shooting and a flurry of offensive rebounds Duke was able to stay close to Maryland initially. The Terps then were able to separate themselves by scoring in transition and knocking down a few 3-pointers by Greivis Vasquez before the half ended.

In similar fashion to a number of Duke losses this season the Blue Devils eventually faded down the stretch after keeping the game closer than perhaps it should have been. Either with a lead, or coming from behind, Duke has lost a number of heartbreaking games this year because they lack reserves that can spell the starters for key moments in the 2nd half. Maryland got 9 rebounds in 13 minutes from Bambale Osby while Duke got only 7 rebounds from its entire bench. When Duke was able to tie the game at 64 with 5 minutes left in the 2nd half senior DJ Strawberry took the team in his back and hit a momentum changing 3-point shot to put Maryland up by five. His clutch play, smothering defense and ability to draw offensive fouls was the main difference between the two teams. Uncharacteristically Duke missed a two front ends in the bonus in the last two minutes which prevented them from putting pressure on the Terps. There were a few defensive lapses at the end for Maryland as the Blue Devils made four field goals in the last 50 seconds of the game. The second half was all on the starters for Maryland as James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe kept mostly out of foul trouble. The starting five played 88 out of a possible 100 minutes in the 2nd half.

Mike Jones came ready to play and had one of his better all around efforts of the season. He not only scored 25 points but grabbed 6 rebounds and had 4 assists in 32 minutes. His hot shooting in the first few minutes of the game helped Maryland strike the first blow in the game. In contrast to his normal routine he did not fade after a hot shooting half and scored 12 points in the 2nd half on only five field goal attempts. Jones did keep to his normal routine by not playing much defense and perhaps setting a record for most fouls on a three point attempts in a season. Jones did deliver what he is most suited for, scoring points off jump shots.

Greivis Vasquez nearly accomplished a triple double with 13 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds. At times he was out of control and took some quick shots at the begging of possessions but was as clutch as he has been the whole winning streak. His two 3-point baskets at the end of the first half gave Maryland some separation going into the break and helped to put Duke out of its comfort zone and play a faster tempo than they wanted. He seems to play his best in the most hostile arenas and in the biggest games. With the exception of DJ Strawberry he was clearly the best wing player on the floor.

James Gist struggled early in the game and was the victim of aggressive double teams by Duke when he got the ball in the low post. Gist has only recently emerged as a potentially dominating offensive player and he'll need to get used to seeing more double teams next season. He had an efficient game with 12 points, 9 points and 3 blocks.

Ekene Ibekwe had a very good game, as he often seems to do when playing Duke. If only he could play Duke every night he might be an All-ACC caliber player. He looked for his shot more often as shown by his 13 attempts but wasn't as big a factor on the boards. Ibekwe also had a number of critical blocks and intimidated Duke wing players from driving in the lane.

Outside of Bambale Osby the bench didn't contribute at the level it had in previous games to an extent because the starters played so well. Eric Hayes struggled badly with some bad turnovers and poor defense on Greg Paulus before getting yanked for most of the last 5 minutes of the 2nd half. He seems to be struggling with his confidence just a little. Dave Neal also had a nice defensive play at the end of the 1st half against DeMarcus Nelson.

DJ Strawberry was again the driving force behind another win in this now six game streak. He is showing the leadership that this group needed and is a steadying influence on the younger players. He was able to draw fouls on defense and get out in transition to score against Duke before they could set up their defense. In his last four games Strawberry has committed one turnover. He has become the clutch senior leader that makes his teammates better.

With the win Maryland secured the 5th seed in the ACC tournament unless there is some unlikely combinations of losses among the top four teams. The likely opponent for Maryland is Miami who will face Florida State in their last game. It would be a fitting opponent since the loss to Miami at the beginning of the year helped put Maryland in the deep hole they dragged themselves out of with the recent winning streak. In related news Miami coach Frank Haith suspended starting guard Dennis Clemente for the remainder of the season.

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