- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

Immediately after a 41-point loss at Duke on Jan. 24 and in the month or so since, Maryland coach Gary Williams insisted it was just as unsettling an experience as any other setback.

The margin didn´t matter, be it one or 10 or 20 or 40.

So, in theory, Wednesday night´s 78-67 loss to No. 7 Duke at Comcast Center should have stung just the same. Yet in reality, it probably hurt worse.

“We have a damn good basketball team that played really hard and played our hearts out, and we didn’t get the win,” a defiant Williams said. “But you know what? I know what we did out there tonight and how hard we worked to get to where we had a chance to win that game.”

The Terrapins stayed even for more than 34 minutes but yielded three crucial 3-pointers in the closing stages to be denied back-to-back victories over the ACC’s colossal powers.

For a loss, it was still something of a defining performance, a game Maryland (17-10, 6-7 ACC) likely could not have summoned as recently as a month ago and now can use as a guide in the future.

“We were in the game, and we could have won the game, so it was a lot harder,” sophomore guard Adrian Bowie said. “But at the same time we learned a lot from it.”

Landon Milbourne scored 19 points for the Terps, while Gerald Henderson had 19 points for the Blue Devils (23-5, 9-4).

The teams’ first meeting - an 85-44 bludgeoning last month that served as both Maryland’s worst-ever ACC loss and the largest margin of defeat of Williams’ 31-year career - hovered over the return engagement in College Park.

This, however, was nothing like the original.

Rather than wilt in the face of perpetual pressure and constant switching on screens, the Terps uncovered ways to create layups. Duke hit eight 3-pointers but never came close to dominating both inside and out as it did last month.

Another game loomed over the proceedings: Maryland’s defeat of then No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday. It was not merely a postseason resume booster but also an inspiring display that eliminated many of the doubts Maryland fans had accumulated over an up-and-down season.

The Terps survived for 10 minutes in the second half without Greivis Vasquez, who recorded the school’s first triple-double in 22 years on Saturday. Time continued to elapse, and Maryland still remained all square with the Blue Devils.

But unlike the North Carolina upset - when nearly everything went right in the final six minutes - the Terps encountered difficulty. Henderson and Kyle Singler connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, stretching the lead to 66-60 and changing the tenor of a one-possession game.

Then Vasquez, who was shuttled in and out to avoid his fifth foul, was called for a charge with 3:24 left, ending his night. He was held to a tame 10 points overall and played just six minutes in the second half.

“Greivis’ fifth foul was a charge, which was right in front of our bench, which was interesting,” Williams said. “It’s a shame. That was a tough one. That was really a shame.”

Another 3-pointer all but finished off the Terps, this one coming from Scheyer with 1:52 left to make the score 72-63.

The Terps led almost the entire first half, though never by a large margin. Five players picked up two fouls, which led to some conservative mixing and matching of lineups to ensure no longer-term issues.

The Terps quickly found their foul woes exacerbated early in the second half. Vasquez was tagged with his third and fourth fouls in a little more than two minutes, and Sean Mosley got tangled with Singler and twisted his left ankle. While Vasquez sat for an extended stretch, Mosley returned in less than three minutes.

The Blue Devils soon enough lost a guard of their own. Nolan Smith was floored on a Dave Neal screen, running into the wide-bodied forward in the backcourt and crumpling to the floor. Neal went down to hit a 3-pointer to pull the Terps within 43-42, while Smith went back to the Duke bench looking woozy.

His teammates weren’t, though, ensuring a season sweep for Duke. But even in the loss, Maryland found some encouragement from its performance for much of the night.

“We’re going to be tough the rest of the way, I guarantee you, and really continue to work and continue to get better like we have for a while,” Williams said. “This is a good basketball team, and I’m proud to be the coach of this team.”

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