Maryland isn’t ready to return its national crown to Duke just yet.
With center Ryan Randle dominating underneath, guard Drew Nicholas converting loose balls for breakaways and freshmen chipping in clutch baskets, No.17 Maryland spanked No.1 Duke 87-72 yesterday before 17,950 at Comcast Center.
Maryland (10-4, 3-1) used a big second half to beat Duke (12-1, 3-1) for the second straight year at home and gain the ACC lead before visiting North Carolina on Wednesday. It was the Terrapins’ seventh upset of a visiting No.1 team since 1959.
It was a stunning turnaround for Maryland, which lost at No.19 Wake Forest 81-72 on Wednesday. The Terps overcame a six-point halftime deficit for the most lopsided victory over their nemesis since a 77-60 win Jan.15, 1983. It was Duke’s largest losing margin in nearly five years.
“It was a statement game. We proved we can play with anybody in the nation,” Randle said. “We knew it before today, but we couldn’t put it all together. We had to win this game. This was the building block.”
Said forward Tahj Holden: “A lot of people said we couldn’t beat ranked teams. Hopefully, we’ll use this momentum.”
Maryland validated itself as a Final Four contender for the third straight year. After losing to four ranked teams, the Terps finally delivered what coach Gary Williams called a “watershed game” that fulfilled the defending national champions’ expectations.
“You can talk about you played well against [ranked teams],” Williams said, “but you have to have that win that shows people you can play and what you tell players is true that we’re good enough to beat people like Duke.”
A national audience saw the last two NCAA champions play an uptempo style that wowed the rabid crowd and produced nonstop scoring.
Maryland used its frontcourt edge to score on repeated backdoor plays and displayed a crisp passing game including four touches on one particular basket to keep Duke off balance.
Guard Drew Nicholas led Maryland with 24 points while Randle added 15 and Holden 10. Duke forward Dahntay Jones scored 26 while guard J.J. Redick managed only 13 before fouling out with 5:14 remaining.
“In the second half, our execution on the offensive half was as good as any year against a quality team,” Williams said. “We had the patience to wait until we forced them into a tough defensive situation. That type of patience has been missing at times, but today we had it. Now we have to keep it.”
Said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: “It wasn’t so much they were stopping us. It was just them playing better.”
Maryland went to a veteran frontcourt by starting Calvin McCall and Holden over freshmen Nik Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison. The latter two slumped in recent games, so Williams opted for experience.
Holden grabbed only three rebounds and McCall none, but they played well enough defensively to set up Randle for a career-high 17 rebounds.
“Once you rip down two or three, you can rip down all of them,” he said.
Both teams opened with long streaks. Duke scored 10 straight for a 13-3 lead as Maryland turned the ball over on six of nine series.
“I thought that was a leftover from Wake Forest,” Williams said. “We did everything right getting ready to play and come time to play, [it was] ‘Here we go again.’”
The Terps countered with 14 unanswered points. Duke soon followed with an 8-0 run to regain the lead for the first time in nearly nine minutes at 28-26.
Maryland twice cut Duke’s edge to one point despite not scoring a field goal for nearly the final four minutes of the half. However, Redick’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Duke a 43-37 halftime lead.
The deficit proved prophetic given that six of the last seven winners in the series trailed at the half. Maryland opened with nine straight points for a 46-43 lead. Duke tied it at 53-53 with 14:20 remaining before Maryland ran off a 14-3 streak capped by 10 unanswered points.
The Terps never led by less than 13 over the final six minutes while outscoring the Blue Devils 50-29 in the second half.
“We had guys doing things on their own,” Duke guard Chris Duhon said. “We lost our closeness.”