Yet, as the game wore on and the leads turned into deficits, it became more and more apparent that Maryland couldn't compete with the pure size and physical presence of the Blue Devils roster. Center Mason Plumlee registered a dominant performance on the evening, going 9-of-13 for the field for 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to lead Duke to a 74-61 win in College Park.
Mason, his brother Miles and forward Ryan Kelly, all of whom stand at least 6-foot-10, shot a combined 17-of-24 from the field Wednesday and were responsible for 44 of the team's 74 points, dominating the paint against the severely undersized Terrapins.
We knew Mason was a good player and he was just the difference, said Mark Turgeon after the game. I thought our resistance wasn't very good on him and we gave him too many layups early.
According to senior guard Sean Mosley, the game plan from the get-go was to force the Blue Devils sharp-shooting guards to look inside. We wanted to try and make them go inside and eliminate those three-point shots, said Mosley. But Plumlee played awesome; he had a double-double and our bigs were fighting the whole game it just seemed that he wanted it more.
As Plumlee continued to consistently connect from down low, it became clear that Turgeon's squad wasn't lacking in strategy or heart, but rather in their personnel. That's my team, he stated. Alex has been hurt so I went with those guys [Pankey and Padgett] and I have all the confidence in the world in those two guys. It was a one-on-one with Plumlee and he was good; give him credit.
While Maryland was unsuccessful in defending the ball down low, they did hold the sharp-shooting Blue Devils to a season-low 3-of-16 (18.8%) from beyond the arc. Coming into the game, the team was shooting 40.9% from three.
I thought hustle plays in the second half, fifty-fifty balls and free throws were the difference in the game when it comes right down to it, said Turgeon. We made some glaring mistakes defensively during that stretch when we couldn't get stops and hopefully we'll learn from it.
On an emotional night in which the Comcast Center court was named in honor of legendary coach Gary Williams, the Terps put on quite a show for their fans up until the waning minutes of the game. Yet, for the Terps, Wednesday night was a game of stretches; stretches that they'd rather not suffer through. Three times the Terps went four or more minutes without registering a field goal.
It's who we are, said Turgeon, offering an explanation to his team's offensive woes. We're a young team, we're inexperienced and we just made mental errors. We don't make free throws. You wanna say it's an offensive problem but I think it's everything.
Turgeon made a point to laud the Duke defensive effort on the Terps' leading scorer, sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin, who despite notching 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting, was never really able to get in a groove with his shot. Guard Pe'Shon Howard chipped in with 10 points and six rebounds.
It all depends on what team shows up for us, said Mosley. Are we going to play hard for 40 minutes or not? At this level, if you want to win, you have to.
Despite losing a game that was within reach multiple times, the first-year coach, who is insistent that he doesn't think in terms of wins and losses, found a great deal of encouragement in his team's performance. We followed the game plan a lot better, said Turgeon. Defensively, we're growing up. We didn't win the game but we hung around until about the three minute mark against a pretty good team.
We want to get better but we want to make sure we get the wins at the same time, said Pe'Shon Howard. We just have to make sure that we put ourselves in the right position to keep improving from where we are now.
One of the areas in which the Terps are in need of desperate improvement is at the free throw line, where they shot an abysmal 11-for-21 (52.4%) Wednesday.
For what many would call the first big game for much of this young Terrapins team, the performance was more than encouraging and at times, as some would venture to say it was fun to watch. As a matter of fact, Wednesday also turned out to be what Mark Turgeon had envisioned when he took the position last May, sans the loss. That was great, he said of the atmosphere. It made a huge difference for us I can't wait until we get to the point where we get our program where I know we are going to get it; where we are selling every game out, not just Duke and North Carolina.
Despite the loss on an emotional night in College Park, there was a sense of impressiveness surrounding the team that has come leaps and bounds from their tumultuous offseason. We have the potential of being a very good team, said freshman forward Ashton Pankey, who had eight points and a team-high eight boards. We've got to come together as a collective effort and find a way to win these close games.
But as Pe'Shon Howard was quick to point out, all talk of encouraging and potential aside, the Terps are still in growing need of a tournament-caliber performance, as they currently are riding a three game losing streak. It means something when you turn around and win, said Howard. Staying close to three or four doesn't get you into the tournament. That's all that matters.