DURHAM, N.C. — There was plenty of hype around Saturday’s men's basketball game between Maryland and Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, largely because it was the Terps’ last visit here as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. It had everything to do with recent history, and nothing to do with current events.
But in what will be looked on a fitting — if unfullfilling, for the Terps —– end to a magnificent rivalry, the Terps took the No. 8 Blue Devils down to the final seconds before losing, 69-67, by the slightest of margins.
With Maryland trailing 68-67, forward Charles Mitchell had two chances to win the game, but the sophomore waited too long on his first shot underneath the basket before getting it blocked out of bounds. Then he watched his second attempt, a hook shot in the lane, hit the back rim and hang on the front rim before falling off.
When the shot missed and Duke forward Amile Jefferson was fouled after getting the rebound with a tenth of a second remaining, Mitchell collapsed to the floor. Consoling him was junior guard Dez Wells, whose 17 second-half points helped fuel Maryland’s comeback from a nine-point deficit.
“I don’t know how Charles’ shot didn’t go in,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “Call it the Duke gods, I don’t know what happened. That thing was rolling in, and all of a sudden, it’s rolling out. It was a great college basketball game. I just hate that we came up short.”
Said Wells: “A couple of bounces, a couple of free throws, and this game was ours. … We almost had this one.”
Wells, who was scoreless for the first 27 minutes after getting into first-half foul trouble, had put Maryland (14-12, 6-7) ahead 67-64 on a 3-pointer from the left wing with 2:45 to play. But Duke (20-5, 9-3) scored the last five points of the game, including the go-ahead dunk by freshman forward Jabari Parker with 1:17 to go.
Parker, who blocked Mitchell’s first shot on Maryland’s final possession, finished with a game-high 23 points. Sophomore forward Jake Layman led the Terps with 18 points, while Wells scored 17 and Mitchell finished with 12 and six rebounds.
It was Wells who took over the game in the second half and gave the Terps a chance to win.
“When I come in, I have to be aggressive,” Wells said. “I want to be aggressive to put my team in the best position to win, and if I’m just out there just playing, that doesn’t help my team. … I’m going to play as hard as I can. I’m going to do exactly what it takes for my team.”
Starting with his first basket, a drive with 12:57 to go to cut what had been a nine-point Duke lead to 49-42, Wells led the Terps on a 14-3 run and to their first lead of the game, 54-52, with 8:26 left. There were six ties and six lead changes in the next five minutes, with a layup by Wells tying the game at 64 with 3:27 remaining.
After Wells hit the 3-pointer to put the Terps ahead, a pair of free throws by Duke forward Rodney Hood pulled the Blue Devils to within a point. A steal by Jefferson led to Parker’s dunk. After Wells missed a short jumper in the lane with 59 seconds left, Parker got the rebound, but Jefferson missed on the other end and a shot-clock violation gave the ball back to Maryland.
Turgeon called timeout, setting up a play for Layman. When the Blue Devils had him covered, sophomore point guard Seth Allen delivered what appeared to be a perfect pass to a wide-open Mitchell underneath. But he fumbled the ball momentarily, and by the time he was ready to shoot, Parker was there to swat it away.
After Mitchell’s shot rimmed out, Turgeon was left to look at one of his more heartbreaking defeats since coming to Maryland.
“I don’t know if you ever deserve to win, but I felt like our kids deserved better fate than that at the end,” Turgeon said.
Asked whether he is going to miss playing Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Turgeon said: “Yeah, I’m going to miss it like crazy. What a great place to come play. It reminds me of playing at Kansas and coaching against one of the all-time best. That was fun.”
Turgeon said Saturday night’s game was not simply about a team struggling through a disappointing season.
It was about decades of Maryland basketball.
“We played tonight for Maryland,” Turgeon said. “We didn’t play for ourselves. We played for all the former coaches, all the former players, all the former students. We played for Maryland, because we knew we weren’t getting them at our place. This was our one chance. We know what it means to Maryland fans. I couldn’t be more proud of my guys. I hope every Maryland fans feels the same way. I know we’re upset that we lost, but our guys gave it all they have.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has been outspoken about his unhappiness over the Terps’ departure for the Big Ten Conference next season, said the end of the game was a reminder that “sometimes the basketball gods fool around with you.”
As for the end of the rivalry, Krzyzewski said: “It won’t be replicated. There will be other rivalries and other games. It started with [former Terps coach] Lefty [Driesell], really. You can talk about all these years. [Bob] Wade, then Gary [Williams] did an incredible job, and now Mark. The one consistent thing is that they’ve been great games.”
And some heartbreaking endings for the Terps.
Add one to that list, too.