- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2011

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Maryland’s chronic issue for four months, the one thing the Terrapins never could solve, was an inability to finish what it started.

No surprise, then, the Terps finished exactly as they started in their first tests in November — receding in the final minutes against a talented team.

The latest, and perhaps last, of Maryland’s patented fades came Friday in the Greensboro Coliseum, against a team it knows all too well. The seventh-seeded Terps spotted Duke a nine-point lead, frequently closed within a point and were left with an 87-71 loss to the second-seeded Blue Devils.

“That’s the story of our season,” senior guard Cliff Tucker said. “We were like that all year. I wish we could have figured it out early in the season how to close games. Today [it was] turnovers, missed rebounds, bad defense. It just killed us toward the end.”

The Terps (19-14) will discover their postseason destination Sunday night, just as they planned all along. It just won’t be the one they wanted.

The Blue Devils (28-4) saw to that despite playing the final 6:48 without conference player of the year Nolan Smith, who injured a toe on his left foot.

In that respect, the night unfolded in the opposite manner someone might have guessed. The Terps bottled up Smith (seven points), who especially struggled against Tucker. Maryland almost completely erased a nine-point hole at the half, snipping the deficit to a point on five occasions.

“I thought we were in pretty good shape in that game,” coach Gary Williams said. “To see it go away hurts.”

The bugaboo, as usual, was closing stages of the festivities, and a pair of calls sandwiching Smith’s injury might have helped sap any chance of a Maryland rally.

Miles Plumlee blocked a Tucker layup with 7:38 to go, prompting Williams to yowl for a goaltend in perhaps his most demonstrative outburst of the season. His request was not granted.

The Terps still trailed 65-60 when the Blue Devils secured a timeout call out of a scramble with six minutes left when it was uncertain if Duke had possession. Out of the timeout, Seth Curry scored while drawing a foul, then made the free throw to make it a three-possession game. The Blue Devils would score nine of 10 points, extinguishing any doubt of the outcome.

The arc of the two hours was strikingly similar to the rest of Maryland’s season. It was the eighth time the Terps took a deficit of at least nine points in the second half and whittled it to five or less without taking a lead and eventually falling.

“We played pretty well for 35, 36 minutes tonight,” senior forward Dino Gregory said. “In order to beat a team like Duke, the fifth-ranked team in the country, you have to play 40 minutes strong. We weren’t able to do that tonight.”

Duke, which advanced to the semifinals for the 13th time in 14 years, had quite a bit to do with the outcome. Curry was superb in Smith’s stead. Complementary pieces Miles Plumlee, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly combined for 30 points.

And most notably, Kyle Singler — an impossible matchup for the Terps — scored 29 points for the Blue Devils.

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