- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

The body was willing, but the mind wasn’t able to lift the Maryland basketball team over Duke yesterday.

The Terrapins bemoaned a series of mistakes after a 96-88 loss to the second-ranked Blue Devils before a capacity crowd at Comcast Center, a setback that dropped Maryland back to .500 in league play.

There were outbursts from stars J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, a strong spurt just after halftime and an impressive display of perimeter- and foul-shooting prowess from the Blue Devils, all hallmarks of a team ensconced at or near the top of the national rankings since the preseason.

Yet afterward, the Terps (15-8, 5-5 ACC) couldn’t get past a rash of errors the opportunistic Blue Devils almost always convert into points.

“You can’t make mental mistakes,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “You can’t forget where you’re supposed to be on the press, you can’t forget where you’re supposed to be on an out-of-bounds play.”

Those laments could be heard among the 17,950 fans who packed Comcast Center and created the building’s most electric environment of the season. Fans poured into the building early in hopes of seeing the Terps knock off Duke at home for the fourth time in five seasons, bringing with them myriad signs, some offensive, some creative, some amusing, some a mix of all three.

Even the bronzed Testudo statue perched outside the main entrance bore a simple-yet-earnest plea on a sign draped around his neck: “Beat Duke.”

It was not to be fulfilled.

Perhaps the game’s most frustrating facet to Maryland was the ease with which Shelden Williams controlled the paint. The senior had a triple-double in the teams’ meeting last month at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and his effort yesterday (26 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks) was impressive enough for Gary Williams to concede his namesake “is the best inside player in the country. He’s going to get his against us.”

It probably came a bit easier than the Maryland coach would have liked. The center received more than enough open looks, and he scored more than half of his points on dunks and layups.

“Nothing that happened tonight was physical,” said senior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who led the Terps with 22 points. “It was mostly just some mental mistakes. When you play against Duke, you can’t make mental mistakes, you can’t leave people open. You have to play very smart.”

Redick scored 35 points for Duke (23-1, 11-0) and pulled within a 3-pointer of the NCAA career record held by former Virginia star Curtis Staples. He accumulated his latest 30-point performance in stealthy fashion, remaining effective both inside and outside despite never going on an extended hot streak before making several free throws in the final minutes.

Williams warned Friday there was more to the Blue Devils than their pair of likely All-Americans, and freshman Greg Paulus proved him right. The point guard scored a career-high 16 points, exploiting some open looks created by the Terps’ need to siphon attention away to Redick. Paulus was 4-for-5 from 3-point range.

“We were going to give them to him, but today he just knocked them down,” Maryland point guard D.J. Strawberry said. “He stepped up big for his team. We were definitely going to give them to him because we’d rather have him shooting than Redick.”

Maryland seemed on the verge of another ignominious blowout loss when the Blue Devils built a 36-24 lead. Still, the Terps rallied, closing to 42-38 at halftime.

It never got closer. Redick hit a 3 and Williams added a layup on consecutive possessions near the start of the second half, and Maryland couldn’t make it even a two-possession game the rest of the way.

“We came out the second half and we just weren’t ready to work as hard as necessary to match up out of transition against Duke,” Gary Williams said. “That’ll make them get that jump to start the second half and then you’re scraping from behind all the time.”

A victory would have burnished Maryland’s NCAA tournament credentials, providing a boost while simultaneously taking pressure off the final six regular-season games. Instead, Maryland faces a three-week stretch with its postseason destination still unknown.

It wasn’t for lack of effort. Duke has a way of bringing that out in a team, and the Terps can only wish it will happen again.

“We really wanted this game bad,” Caner-Medley said. “Hopefully, I and the seniors will get another chance to play them down the road.”

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