Entering the ACC tournament, Duke was undefeated with Ryan Kelly in the lineup. And thanks in large measure to Kelly, the Blue Devils led the conference by wide margins in 3-point shooting percentage and 3-point defense.
Maryland defied those season-long trends Friday, leading wire-to-wire in an 83-74 ACC tournament quarterfinal upset.
Led by Dez Wells’ career-high 30 points, the Terps shot 51 percent overall, 40 percent from beyond the arc (8-for-20).
Prior to Friday, the Blue Devils were limiting opponents to 28.8-percent 3-point accuracy. Moreover, they were making 41.6 percent of their own attempts. Friday, they made 4-of-25, or 16 percent.
“It’s a hell of a thing,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It’s a phenomenon. You witnessed an amazing thing. I just wish we were the thing that was amazing. That’s what happens in the game. It’s why stats and all that, those are things that people like to play around with.
“When people are put in a position where they have to win, a lot of times they elevate. Maryland was stupendous tonight. I can say all the things we did wrong, but to me, they did their things right (more) than we did our things wrong. They were a terrific basketball team tonight.”
No doubt Maryland (22-11) was the more desperate team. The Terps finished seventh in the ACC regular-season standings and certainly need to defeat North Carolina in Saturday’s semifinals to harbor any realistic hopes of making the NCAA tournament.
Conversely, Duke (27-5) may still be headed for a No. 1 NCAA seed. The Blue Devils are 18-1 with Kelly, the 6-foot-11 forward who missed 13 games with a foot injury, and their quality of victories is unsurpassed.
But Friday was the least-effective of Kelly’s four outings since returning. He missed 8-of-11 shots and all six of his 3-point attempts.
Kelly sat out a critical second-half stretch, but Krzyzewski insisted it wasn’t because of pain in the foot.
“Did you see they had four guards in?” Krzyzewski explained. “We couldn’t play defense. If you saw that, that answers the question. Ryan is … not in the shape that he would be normally, and so we had to try to match them, and we were playing catch up the whole time.
“We got it down to two, and Mason (Plumlee) got inside and … got that charge call, and that was a pivotal time because we had a chance and then they exploded again to a double-figure lead.”
Plumlee scored a team-high 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, but he committed four of Duke’s six turnovers and for the second time this season struggled at times against Maryland’s Alex Len.
Still, the Blue Devils’ greatest shortcoming was defending Wells, who scored on threes, mid-range jumpers and slashes to the basket. Wells scored 21 points in Thursday’s opening round win over Wake Forest.
“In these two games he’s elevated himself to really a high level,” Krzyzewski said. “You can bring everybody with you. You start playing with a guy who is doing that, and with that sense of urgency, again, they were deserving of winning. …
“For us, we were not hungry tonight. Whether we’re pacing ourselves or thought we could, we weren’t the Duke team that’s played most of this season, especially the last couple of weeks. I’m disappointed in our performance, but I’m also very impressed with the performance of Maryland. … Our team over the last 10 days has played great, but we weren’t that team tonight. That’s why it’s not a video game.”
Here’s guessing Krzyzewski voices that disappointment, loudly, as the Blue Devils prepare for the NCAA tournament. The last time Duke failed to advance in the ACC tournament, 2007, it lost to VCU in the first round of the NCAAs.
Also recall that last season the Blue Devils exited the NCAA hastily, at the hands of Lehigh.
“We have to have a good week of practice,” Plumlee said. “There is no time to start questioning things, but at the same time, we have to right the ship going forward. This happens next week, we’re done.”
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