After seven weeks of the college basketball season, there had been a gap between the top two teams and the rest of the pack in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
After yesterday's comedown at Cole Field House, it's evident that there's a sizable gulf between Duke and Maryland, too. The second-ranked Blue Devils used a 13-0 run early in the second half and a lame attack by the No. 4 Terps to coast to an unexpectedly easy 82-64 victory.
The Maryland setback came one year to the day since Duke handed the Terps their worst loss at Cole in 29 years, but this one was even more disturbing. The Terps were a team searching for an identity then. This time, they fancy themselves contenders for an NCAA title, but on their court and backed by 14,500 fans, the Terps trailed by as many as 24 points.
"The difference today was that a lot of people thought we could win this game," coach Gary Williams said. "In big games in the past, we were the underdog. There's a different type of pressure there, and I'm not sure we responded well."
Just as it did in its previous loss, at Kentucky, Maryland (13-2, 1-1) paid for a six-minute gap. It was tied at 39 two minutes into the second half when the Terps withdrew into an offensive shell. Maryland's lack of productivity in its half-court game was the difference.
Between Laron Profit's drive and a transition basket by Terence Morris, the Terps went more than six minutes without a field goal. Duke (13-1, 2-0) used that drought to turn a tie into a 52-39 lead with 14: 46 left, and Maryland only once got as close as 11.
Maryland came in third in the nation in field-goal percentage (.522), but threw up a season-low .368.
The Terps became the first team in the nation to get to 13 wins by playing as a team, and yesterday they unraveled as one. During Duke's decisive spurt, center Obinna Ekezie missed two free throws and was called for a charge, point guard Terrell Stokes committed one of his five turnovers, Morris lost possession and Steve Francis was rejected on a drive.
Duke clamped down on Francis. The marked junior college transfer missed all seven of his shots in the second half, when his contribution was a free throw, three assists and as many turnovers. After a 3-for-9 first half, Morris made a late charge that got him to 16 points, but he was the only one of Maryland's top four scorers to get his average.
Profit, coming off the best three-game roll of his career, made three of 12 shots.
Williams said Maryland didn't run its offense quickly enough to solve Duke's rotation, but Profit said the problem was that the Terps were too hasty with their shot selection.
"We just weren't patient," Profit said. "We weren't willing to wait for the good shot. They [Duke] got us going faster than normal. That might sound funny, because we're a transition team, but once you get in a half-court offense, you have to be patient and wait for a good shot and a good opportunity."
The first half ended well for Maryland. Down 11-4, the Terps spread the floor, got the ball in Francis' hands and had several leads just before the break. They policed Trajan Langdon and William Avery, Duke's three-point shooters, and converted their second chances.
Williams lamented his team's lack of emotion, but Maryland held its own in a rugged first half that was more of a "Mortal Kombat" film than a sporting event, with Ekezie, freshman Lonny Baxter and Duke center Elton Brand taking turns pummeling the unwise who wandered into the lane.
Then it all unraveled.
Duke got an unwitting break when power forward Shane Battier picked up his fourth foul 63 seconds into the second half. Coach Mike Krzyzewski went small, using 6-6 Nate James in that spot, and the Terps were left behind by a quicker Duke lineup.
Brand, the sophomore who had 19 points and 13 rebounds, both game highs, took a feed from Chris Carrawell and put Duke on top for good with 17: 58 left. He made a jumper over Ekezie, Avery hit two free throws, James got a putback, Carrawell scored in transition and Avery applied the dagger with a three-pointer.
"We are ecstatic about the win," said Krzyzewski, who used just eight players. "Our defense was outstanding in the second half. We played like five guys as one. We didn't give them any transition baskets, and that took them out of their game."
The Blue Devils got a head start on their quest to become the first team since North Carolina in 1976 to 1978 to win three straight ACC regular-season titles. The Terps played the final minutes before a lot of empty seats.
"The jury's out on what we're going to do in the conference," said Williams, who takes his team to Virginia Thursday. "This is one day. This isn't the season."
Maryland has only lost 12 times by double digits at Cole Field House in coach Gary Williams' 10 seasons, but five of those have come against Duke. The Blue Devils are the only team to beat the Terrapins by 16 or more points at Cole under Williams and have won 12 of their past 14 games there.
Yr Opp. Result Mar.
1998 Duke 104-72 32
1999 Duke 82-64 18
1992 Duke 83-66 17
1993 Duke 78-62 16
1991 Duke 94-78 16
Pub Date: 1/04/99