Before the season began, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon told me he had a goal centered on free throws.
Here was the goal: "We try to make more free throws than our opponents shoot."
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When that happens, Maryland usually prevails. It happened last night in Maryland’s 75-62 victory over Wake Forest in the ACC tournament. Maryland made 22 free throws and the Deacons shot 21.
It happened the last time Maryland played Wake in the regular season. It happened the last time Maryland played Duke.
The Terps won all of those games, and there’s a reason to mention them now – particularly that Duke victory. Maryland gets its third meeting with the Blue Devils at Greensboro Coliseum Friday night.
The Terps probably can’t duplicate their inside dominance from the previous game. Maryland went to the line 34 times, making 25. Duke went to the line 21 times.
But the Terps are going to need to use that formula again. If they have an advantage over Duke, it’s that Maryland’s frontcourt is big and strong and can get second shots.
Gone are the days when Duke (Brian Zoubek!) would have its way with the Terps inside. The Devils have plenty to offer, of course, and are the prohibitive favorite. They have veteran leaders in senior Mason Plumlee and senior Seth Curry and they have outside shooters. Duke leads the ACC in 3-point shooting, scoring offense and scoring margin.
And now Duke has senior Ryan Kelly, who creates mismatches because of his size and 3-point shooting. He was out with an injured foot when Maryland and Duke split their earlier meetings.
But Maryland has that inside strength – and it's going to have exert itself, even at the risk of foul trouble if it wants to hang with Duke. Mark Turgeon would rather Alex Len be aggressive and get in foul trouble than be passive. Turgeon may use Shaquille Cleare more than he has recently to lean on Plumlee.
Said Pe’Shon Howard: “It’s going to be a grind.”