DURHAM, N.C. - He hoped to see focus. He hoped to see passion. And above all else last night, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams wanted to see his team walk into hostile Cameron Indoor Stadium and find the confidence that has seemingly been missing for much of the past month.
The Maryland Terrapins found all three things in the unlikeliest of places.
Making all the plays down the stretch and riding a huge second half, the Terps experienced a major breakthrough, knocking the second-ranked Blue Devils from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 75-66 victory before 9,314 stunned fans.
"That was all about the players," Williams said. "We struggled a little bit with our identity, but we do have pride in our program. After the N.C. State game, I think our players took it upon themselves to give a good effort. We played with a lot of confidence down the stretch.
"There's a lot of people in College Park who had written us off. They seemed to have a habit of doing that. But this was a big win for us."
Duke (15-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) has been beaten only six times in Durham since the 1999-2000 season. Three of the defeats are to Maryland, but last night's may have been the most unpredictable.
The Terps (12-5, 3-3) had been blown out by an average of 22 points in three losses to other top conference foes, but that didn't matter to Maryland, which came in looking as confident as it has all season.
Maryland made 20 of 24 free throws, and Nik Caner-Medley scored a game-high 25 points on 8-for-13 shooting in giving the Terps an elite win that they lacked to this point.
"I was emotional on the bench, but my teammates have so much heart," Caner-Medley said. "They came up big down the stretch and hit some big free throws."
The Terps led from the opening tip and didn't get overtaken by Duke until the 4:41 mark of the first half.
Maryland regained the lead in the second half with 13:42 to play on a Chris McCray layup. To that point, the Terps had been kept afloat by Caner-Medley, who scored nine of the Terps' first 11 points in the second half.
It was 52-52 after John Gilchrist hit a tough jumper inside with about 11:02 to play, but J.J. Redick knocked down his third three-pointer and exhorted the Cameron Crazies to make some more noise.
But Maryland responded. Given a tiny bit of room by Redick, Caner-Medley pulled up from NBA three-point range and scored to pull the Terps within 58-57 with 8:38 remaining.
After three empty possessions of trying to take the lead, the Terps finally seized it 59-58 at the 6:47 mark on a layup by McCray. And they built on it as Ekene Ibekwe made one of two free throws and Travis Garrison dunked a nifty pass from Caner-Medley for a 62-58 Maryland advantage.
Redick stole the ball and was coming down the court for a game-tying attempt at a layup but Caner-Medley contested it, causing a wild shot. But Caner-Medley landed awkwardly on his left ankle and left the game.
Shavlik Randolph tied the game at 64, putting back Shelden Williams' missed free throw, but Ibekwe then scored inside to help the Terps regain a 66-64 lead with 1:21 to play.
But Garrison and Ibekwe then knocked down two free throws and Maryland's lead swelled to 70-64. The Terps then hit the majority of their free throws down the stretch and scored the shocking victory.
The Terps prevailed when the teams last met in the final of the ACC tournament, where the team's stunning run to the title was highlighted by an upset of the top-seeded Blue Devils in the championship game.
The Blue Devils haven't lost to an ACC opponent since that afternoon in Greensboro, N.C., when the Terps erased a 12-point deficit in the final five minutes and then won in overtime, 95-87, denying Duke a sixth straight ACC tournament crown.
A headline in the local paper here yesterday posed the question, "Payback time for Duke?" over a picture of a jubilant Gilchrist, draped by Maryland's state flag and with his index finger aloft, signaling where the Terps' stood in the ACC hierarchy that day.
Williams felt those losses were blown out of proportion, but he was admittedly concerned by Sunday's 16-point loss at home to North Carolina State. As he hinted at Monday, Williams changed the starting lineup last night, inserting Will Bowers for center Ibekwe and Mike Jones for Travis Garrison. It was the first career start for both Bowers and Jones.
Williams changed the lineup because he wanted his team to get off to a better start than it did against the Wolfpack, and the move worked. Bowers, who played 19 minutes in the first half, scored four early points, and Gilchrist and Caner-Medley were both assertive early, helping the Terps to a 23-16 advantage past the midpoint of the first half.
Duke certainly didn't help itself, missing 13 of its first 18 shots, but eventually the Blue Devils found their range behind Redick, the ACC's leading scorer. Redick had 13 points at halftime and his three-pointer with 7:35 to play triggered a 16-4 Duke run that gave the Blue Devils a 32-26 lead.
On the play, Redick initially had the ball stolen from him, but Caner-Medley, heading up court, dribbled off his foot. Sean Dockery picked up the ball and found Redick alone.
Redick's three free throws eventually gave Duke a 26-24 advantage, its first lead of the night, 4:41 before intermission. Caner-Medley tied the game with a steal and a dunk, but the Blue Devils then went on a modest 8-4 run to close the half with a 34-30 lead.
"We definitely needed this," McCray said. "We know we have the talent to play with anybody in the country. Now we proved it."
NOTE: This was on the chant sheet that is passed out to the Cameron Crazies before the game: "D.J. Strawberry is entirely off limits, NO EXCEPTIONS. Just don't go there. We're classier than that."
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