Duke was ripe for the taking last night. Maryland thoroughly outplayed the Blue Devils in the 1st half and got to halftime with a nine point lead. Then everything started falling apart. It was more of a slow decline even though Duke came out and scored six straight points to start the final half. The game was tied after about 7 minutes but in the critical moments after that Maryland's defense crumbled and the offense couldn't get anything going. Missing the front end of several critical one-and-one free throws was also fatal.
Overall I think the players did a fairly good job. You couldn't ask much more of James Gist, Boom Osby and Greivis Vasquez. Duke made some great halftime adjustments and their players executed better than Maryland in the last 10 minutes of the game. At the same time I have to say that I feel Gary Williams blew this game. His lineup decisions and substitutions in the 2nd half were atrocious. With Duke dribble penetrating at will in the 2nd half Williams stubbornly stuck to a lineup with Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne, the two worst perimeter defenders on the team. DeMarcus Nelson exploited Milbourne on a number of occasions and Eric Hayes was unable to put any pressure on the ball and extend the defense. I think Williams got too tentative in the critical moments of the 2nd half and refused to put Cliff Tucker or Adrian Bowie in place of both Hayes and Milbourne. He should have because if Maryland had just played a little better defense on the wings they would have walked away a winner.
In the first half Maryland's defense was solid with Tucker and Bowie playing 21 minutes helping to hold Duke to 42% from the field. In the second half Duke shot 53% and Bowie and Tucker played only 9 minutes. Eric Hayes and Milbourne played 32 combined minutes in the 2nd half. Tucker and Bowie made their share of mistakes in the game and they certainly were not perfect but they were very efficient and are far superior ball defenders than either Hayes or Milbourne. In my mind that is what lost the game for Maryland. The offensive rebounds that Williams mentioned in his post game comments were largely the result of Duke penetrating against those two players and drawing help defense. As the defense shifted and Osby came over to defend the penetrations it left the weak side open to offensive rebounds. Milbourne, Hayes and Vasquez did an awful job with weak side rebounding.
Duke pulled James Gist away from the basket on defense and therefore negated his shot blocking ability and limited his rebounds. It was a very savvy strategy by Krzyzewski to spread the floor and gamble that his wing players in Henderson, Nelson and Nolan Smith could beat Hayes, Milbourne and Vasquez on offense. Nelson and Smith combined for 6 offensive rebounds. Henderson was a tough matchup for Vasquez as he is bigger, stronger and more athletic. Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Taylor King were virtual non-factors in this game as they combined to go 4/19.
James Gist had another great game, finishing with 26 points and 5 rebounds. His low rebounding total had as much to do with Krzyzewski's strategy as with Gist having a poor rebounding night. He turned the ball over a few times and missed some free throws he should have hit but it is impossible to assign much blame to the best player on the floor. Duke had no answer for Gist or Osby. Boom had a career night with 20 points and 15 rebounds while tearing up the Duke frontcourt. He also had too many turnovers and missed a few key free throws but as with Gist it is hard to place much of the blame on a player who puts up those numbers.
Greivis Vasquez also had a very solid game with 15 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds. He took a few ill advised shots and was a little careless with the ball but only had two turnovers. You would think with Maryland's three best players having these kinds of games they would have beaten Duke. Eric Hayes was largely ineffective on offense going 2/6 from the floor and scoring 6 points during game action (he got two off of K's technical). This is what Eric Hayes has to offer and it isn't much. It is shocking that after the freshmen had proven they could provide quality depth the last few games that Williams went with Hayes for 35 minutes. If that continues and Williams reverts to the rotations before Hayes injured his ankle it will cost Maryland more games. Some of the turnovers and defensive gaffs by Hayes were embarrassing along with his botching at least two fast breaks that should have resulted in scores. A Hayes, Milbourne and Vasquez trio can put little pressure on the ball as evidenced by the paltry 10 turnovers by Duke on only three steals by the Terps.
Duke plays very aggressive defense on the wing and overplays passing lanes. It was disappointing that Maryland turned the ball over 22 times and part of that was the inability of Hayes to put any pressure on Duke's defense. You have to make an aggressive team like Duke pay for its gambles but Maryland wasn't able to do that. Hayes too often got pushed out away from the 3-point line by his defender and that helped Duke extend the floor and guard against the post players that were killing them. Maybe Hayes isn't healthy yet but then he should not have been playing for 35 minutes. Perhaps I'm being too hard on Hayes but many of his shortcomings are the kind you won't see in the box score the next day.
I'm not sure why Gary Williams chose to play Dave Neal in the 2nd half either. He isn't a great matchup with any Duke players and he blew a wide open layup on a fast break. A shot blocker like Shane Walker would have been more useful with all of Duke's dribble penetrations. He is a player that relies on his smarts and hustle but is too limited athletically to play much in the ACC.
Duke isn't a good matchup for Braxton Dupree but it is worth noting he did not play at all.
In this game Maryland had a huge advantage over Duke's frontcourt and Duke had some mismatches against Maryland's wing players. The team that managed its advantages and weaknesses better was going to win. In the 2nd half Krzyzewski did a better job of that than Gary Williams did and that was the difference. I think Williams is no worse than the second best bench coach in the ACC and you could easily argue he is the best, but last night he bungled the 2nd half and didn't make the critical adjustments Maryland needed to come out a victor.
Maryland has a stretch of opponents coming up that are vulnerable and the next four games will go a long way to deciding what Maryland makes of this season. A wounded and vulnerable Virginia team comes to Comcast on Wednesday and Maryland needs to get back on track by putting away an opponent they should beat.