COLLEGE PARK - A month ago, when they defeated then-No. 1 Duke with ease at Comcast Center, the Maryland Terrapins handled the Blue Devils inside, used fine team defense to counter Duke's dribble penetration strategy, and got outstanding shooting from their senior backcourt.
In the regular-season rematch Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the No. 8 Duke men evened the score with a 75-70 victory that dropped the No. 13 Terps into a second-place tie with the Blue Devils in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the opposite occurred.
Duke established itself down low quickly with strong rebounding and much-improved freshman forward Shelden Williams. He combined with forward Dahntay Jones and center Casey Sanders to out-rebound Maryland's starting frontcourt of Tahj Holden, Ryan Randle and Nik Caner-Medley by 26-14. Williams also had six of Duke's season-high 13 blocks.
The Blue Devils, mainly Jones, senior point guard Chris Duhon and Williams, broke down the Terps' defense repeatedly with drives to the basket and kick-out passes to open shooters like J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing, who combined to make three key three-point shots in the final eight minutes.
And this time, Maryland guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas never approached the 32 combined points they produced in last month's 87-72 Maryland victory.
Nicholas scored a season-low eight points on 3-for-10 shooting and missed two important free throws late in the game. Blake missed eight of 10 shots, including a desperation three-point attempt to force overtime with two seconds left. He finished with 12 points.
Yet, despite the shortcomings that left Maryland trailing the Blue Devils for nearly all of the game's final 29 minutes, and despite falling behind by 10 points late in each half, the Terps refused to quit.
After Maryland forced a turnover by Ewing with 11 seconds to go, Blake had a chance to tie the score at 73. But Blake chose not to pass out of a double team to an open Nicholas with time running out and threw up a fade-away three-point try that fell well short of the iron.
"We were going to play good defense. Hopefully, they'd miss and we'd have a chance for a three-pointer," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who chose not to foul the Blue Devils as they milked the clock in the final 40 seconds with a 73-70 lead.
"If we had a chance to foul one of their big guys, maybe. But [Duke] wasn't going to let one of their big guys handle it. If you foul one of their guards, they are going to make one free throw. It wasn't a one-and-one situation. We won that gamble, but we couldn't make the three to tie it up. But I'll take our effort every time."
"I felt like if I had passed it, time would have run out," said Blake, whose floor game shined, as he added seven rebounds and nine assists with only three turnovers in 37 minutes. "I felt like I got knocked off balance by Duhon a little bit. I couldn't get a good look [at the basket]. But there are some positives in the way we kept the game close."
Williams was impressed with Maryland's tenacity, as the Terps (16-7, 8-4) came close to sweeping Duke (18-4, 8-4) in the regular season for the first time in eight years, but instead became the Blue Devils' 26th straight victim at Cameron.
The Sunday snowstorm forced a one-day postponement of Maryland's 90-67 rout over visiting Wake Forest, leaving the Terps with one day to prepare for Duke. Maryland also arrived in Durham five hours late on Tuesday night, after opting to fly out of Dulles Airport in Virginia because air traffic was backed up at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
The Terps, who are the last team to win at Duke - on Feb. 27, 2001 - are a half game behind Wake Forest in the ACC. The loss also significantly damaged Maryland's hopes to claim another No. 1 seed in next month's NCAA tournament. The Terps, defending NCAA and regular-season ACC champions, could seize a No. 2 or 3 seed with a strong finish.