COLLEGE PARK, Md. –
Losing to Duke on Saturday night was not an option for the Maryland Terrapins.
Saturday’s game against the No. 2 Blue Devils was as “must-win” as “must-win” gets.
It was simple. In order to have any shot at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, any shot at all, they just had to beat Duke.
But beating Duke isn’t an easy thing to do. The Blue Devils entered the game with just two losses in 24 contests this year, both coming against teams ranked inside the top-25. Maryland had just one victory against a top-25 team and lost to the Blue Devils by 20 in their first meeting.
But the Terrapins put in the hard work necessary to pull off a season-saving victory.
“It has been a hard week,” said Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, who was emotionally drained following the Terrapins’ thrilling 83-81 victory over No. 2 Duke on Saturday night in College Park, Md.
“I worked them really hard this week and challenged them in a lot of different areas. I told them we don’t have to do anything extraordinary. We just have to play to our level. And that’s what we did. We continued to compete.”
The Terps had not played since last Sunday, when they squandered an oppurtunity at home to beat a quality Virginia team, losing 80-69. Teams only get so many real days of physical practice. With travel and scouting and walk-throughs, teams don’t get too many high-intensity practices on a weekly basis.
Maryland’s week off couldn’t have come at a better time. Maryland needed this win, and put all their available resources into getting the win.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski thought that Maryland’s extra preparation made a difference. “I thought the week of preparation they had for this game was huge. They were fresh, they were determined and it was a tough game for us to play.”
Consider this. Maryland finished with 26 turnovers yet still won the game. They committed 26 turnovers against the No. 2 team in the nation, yet still won.
I’ll say it again: 26 turnovers.
“[Coach] said to just play through [the turnovers]. That’s a big test of your maturity, to go through the next play. I just tried to have amnesia, and tried to play every time,” said Seth Allen, who finished with 17 points and made two fouls shots with two seconds remaining to give the Terrapins a two point lead.
See, the only way a team can win a game in which they commit 26 turnovers is to outcompete their opposition. And that’s exactly what the Terps did.
The Terps won because they competed. They grabbed 40 rebounds, had seven steals and blocked six shots. Duke grabbed just 20 rebounds, and blocked one shot.
A less determined Maryland team would have settled for jumpers. Instead the Terps got after it, attacked the paint, and maximized scoring opportunities. Maryland went to the foul line 34 times on Saturday, and made 25 of the attempts. Duke went to the foul line just 21 times and made only 15.
“I don’t know what 14 times 500 is, but we shot that many free throws this week,” Said Turgeon. “The key was that we got to the foul line. We haven’t shot 34 free throws in a long time. We drove the ball and were aggressive and got to the line.”
Alex Len, who finished with a team-high 19 points, was aggressive down low, and was rewarded with eight trips to the foul line. He finished 7-for-8. Len dominated his one-on-one matchup with National Player of the Year candidate Mason Plumlee.
“I challenged Alex about being Mason Plumlee’s little brother. He treats you like a little brother. He said ‘I’m tired of being a little brother, it’s time for us to step up and act like on of the big guys on the block.'”
In their first meeting, back on January 26th, Plumlee finished with 19 points and 8 rebounds. On Saturday night he finished with four points and three rebounds.
This was a game that Maryland had to win. They needed this win. They didn’t just want to beat Duke, they had to beat Duke, and their play on Saturday expressed their desire.
They wanted a win and they needed a win, so they physically took it from Duke. It’s not always the best solution, but sometimes it beats the alternative.
There was no alternative for Maryland on Saturday night.
You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir