COLLEGE PARK - They looked like imposters in black and blue, a team that resembled Duke in name and face but certainly not in execution and intensity. That's what Maryland did to the Blue Devils yesterday at Cole Field House. That's what top-ranked Duke did to itself.
Was that really Jason Williams, one of the favorites for national Player of the Year, missing 16 of 22 shots and making six turnovers during Duke's 87-73 loss to the No. 3 Terrapins? Was that really Mike Dunleavy, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference candidate himself, missing nine of 14 shots and being dominated inside by Maryland's Chris Wilcox?
Having won 11 straight games by an average of 23 points since their only previous loss of the season last month at Florida State, having won by 37 on Thursday night at home over No. 24 North Carolina State, Duke found itself in a strange place - behind by as many as 25 points in the second half.
"We weren't that good, but Maryland had a lot to do with it," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. " ... We really rushed things early in the game. We got flustered. You can get that way when the other team isn't playing that well, but Maryland was playing well."
It was Duke's most one-sided loss since a 15-point defeat to North Carolina in the 1998 ACC tournament final, when the Blue Devils were ranked first and the Tar Heels fourth. The Blue Devils shot a season-low 36 percent (27-for-75) from the field, made just seven of 33 three-point attempts and committed 18 turnovers.
Oh, and did we mention that they missed eight of their first nine free throws in a 12-for-24 afternoon?
"They played great defense, they pressured a lot of shots; Lonny Baxter did a great job inside blocking shots and helping," said Williams, who finished with 17 points, six turnovers and four assists. "A lot of teams play me physically. Maryland did a great job of always knowing where I was as soon as I caught the ball."
Said Dunleavy, "Jason wasn't hitting the shots he normally does, but a lot of that had to do with the defense [Steve] Blake played on him."
Williams was involved in what turned out to be a key play in helping Maryland reclaim the momentum it had for most of the first half. Having cut a 14-point deficit in half, Williams was trying to set the offense for the final play. He looked back at Krzyzewski for a play to call, and Blake stripped the ball and scored.
"He was trying to call a play, and I couldn't hear what he was saying " Williams said. "I looked at him again because everyone was telling me. And he [Blake] stole the ball. He made a good play."
Things only got worse in the second half for the Blue Devils. They scored twice in the first nine possessions and three times in the first seven minutes as their deficit grew to 17. They found themselves down by as many as 25 on three occasions in the second half.
While the Maryland fans and even a few of the players were mindful of what happened last season against Duke - first losing in overtime at home after blowing a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds of regulation, then watching a 22-point lead in the first half of their NCAA tournament semifinal disappear - the Blue Devils realized it wasn't happening again.
"We knew it would be pretty difficult to come back, as well as they were playing," Dunleavy said.
Duke made its last run after scoring nine straight points to cut its deficit to 69-54 on a three-point play by freshman guard Daniel Ewing with 7:42 to play. And when the Blue Devils got within 81-70 with a little over two minutes left, the fans and Wilcox got nervous.
"I said to myself, 'This isn't happening again,' " Wilcox recalled later.
It didn't, mostly because of the mistakes Duke made earlier.
"We didn't do the things we needed to do to get back in the game," said Duke assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski.
The defeat puts the Blue Devils in a precarious position in terms of winning their sixth straight ACC regular-season championship. At 11-2, they trail Maryland (11-1) and must still play at Wake Forest and Virginia. It also means the ACC tournament will likely determine the top seed in the East region of the NCAA tournament.
"We've just got to put this behind us," Dunleavy said.