Thursday, March 1, 2007

DURHAM, N.C. — Greivis Vasquez conveyed a message when he icily stared down Cameron Indoor Stadium’s famed fans after a pair of 3-pointers late in the first half.

He and his teammates were not intimidated by one of college basketball’s most storied buildings, nor the formidable team on the other side of the floor. They were not willing to fold, nor ready to cede their five-game winning streak.

Most importantly, he and his Maryland teammates felt right at home in Cameron’s cozy confines, comfy enough to complete a season sweep of the Blue Devils.

Vasquez’s near triple-double and Mike Jones’ 25-point outburst sent the Terps to a 85-77 victory, their fourth in eight years at Cameron.

“I love it when the crowd is on me,” Vasquez said. “It makes me play better. I love when somebody challenges me. I love to play here. I’ll play here for three more years, and it’s going to be fun. They might be worried about me now.”

The statistical oddity that is Maryland (23-7, 9-6) added a few more accomplishments to its dossier. It locked up at least a No. 5 seed in next week’s ACC tournament and became the first team in conference history to overcome a 1-4, 2-5 or 3-6 start in league play — let alone all of them — and finish with a winning record.

“This team, we’ve come miles from where we were at,” senior guard D.J. Strawberry said. “It was a lot of hard work and just a lot of faith in ourselves. Nobody lost faith in this time, nobody lost their confidence. Everybody just stepped up and played harder. That’s just what we did, played harder and just try to do whatever it takes to get wins.”

Vasquez was the epicenter of it all last night, scoring 13 points to go with nine rebounds and 12 assists in a virtuoso performance. Through his deft generation of a transition game to his well-placed passes, it was a night even the charismatic Venezuelan will be hard-matched to replicate.

“He knows the game,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team had 25 assists on its 33 baskets. “For a freshman he’s advanced. He has a great feel of who should get the ball, which really helps us. He’s long, and he’s not real [quick], but he gets by you somehow, and he creates situations where if you help he’s a good enough passer to get the ball to the right guy.”

As throughout the six-game winning streak that lifted Maryland from a postseason question mark to one of the hottest teams in the country, contributions came from everywhere. Jones was active from the start, and once he cooled, Strawberry (17 points) diced up the Blue Devils (22-8, 8-7) in the second half.

Ekene Ibekwe added 17 points for Maryland, while Greg Paulus scored 20 for Duke, which has lost four games at Cameron for the first time since 1995-96.

The Terps, who improved to 4-0 on the road in February and 5-0 against the ACC’s four North Carolina schools, pulled away from Duke early in the second half. With Vasquez effectively grabbing steals and rebounds to start breaks, Maryland opened up a 56-44 lead.

This being Duke, though, a comeback was inevitable.

Paulus was the instigator, delivering a drive and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to cut the deficit to 58-53. Yet he picked up his fourth foul with 9:56 left, imperiling the Blue Devils’ rally.

Duke, though, drew closer during Paulus’ absence, and his runner with 5:54 remaining kept the Blue Devils within 64-61. The next time down the floor, Jon Scheyer’s 3-pointer finally tied it and forced Williams to call a timeout.

As he had all night, Vasquez was the one to create a play. He drove in from the left wing, writhing in the lane before lofting a jumper over Josh McRoberts.

Strawberry added a 3-pointer and a short jumper on the next two possessions, putting Maryland up 71-64.

“We’ve been there before,” Strawberry said. “We were there with the No. 5 team in the nation in Carolina [on Sunday], and there was no panic. We knew we were going to win the game.”

Appropriately, it was another Vasquez pass that finished off Duke for good. He zipped a bullet into Ibekwe for a dunk with 1:21 remaining, bumping Maryland’s lead to 75-68 and extinguishing what little hope remained among the Cameron Crazies.

Vasquez was quiet from a scoring sense for much of the half, but he awakened after Duke tied it at 38-38. He came out of a timeout, drilled a 3-pointer and glanced at the crowd, then repeated the action on the next possession — only this time with a longer stare toward the Crazies — to send Maryland into the half up 44-38.

It was the most points the Blue Devils surrendered in the first half all season and came just three days after Duke limited St. John’s to 10 points before the break. Maryland also became the first team to score 80 points against Duke since North Carolina in last year’s regular season finale nearly a year ago.

“There’s a lot of people that still don’t think we are good,” Vasquez said. “The game was ESPN. Maybe people were watching.”

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide