Give Maryland credit for not mailing it in after losing three straight to finish the regular season.
The seventh-seeded Terps did what they were supposed to in a 75-67 victory over N.C. State in the opening round of the ACC tournament. It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but it didn’t need to be against the Wolfpack, who couldn’t have put forth a more lifeless effort in the likely final game of the Sidney Lowe era.
Jordan Williams’ 16 points and 13 rebounds punched Maryland’s ticket for a second-round matchup against Duke on Friday night, giving the Terps a third opportunity to gain a win over the Blue Devils in 2011.
The Terps held N.C. State to 33.8 percent shooting and an anemic 2-for-17 performance from beyond the arc, interrupting an alarming trend of sloppy perimeter defense over the last month. The Wolfpack’s leading scorer Tracy Smith — dealing with a sore knee that forced him to come off the bench — lacked his normal energy, and sophomore Scott Wood (0-for-6 from 3-point range) failed to find the rhythm he enjoyed against the Terps last month.
Maryland (19-13) exploded to an early 12-2 lead and never trailed in the game, dictating the tempo despite several sloppy stretches that invited the Wolfpack to climb back in the game.
None were more uncomfortable than the final four minutes of the game after the Terps had built a comfortable 68-53 lead. A 10-2 Wolfpack run cut the deficit to 70-63 with 1:37 to play as Maryland struggled to simply bring the ball into the frontcourt on a few occasions. Following a timeout with 1:29 to play, the Terps regained their bearings as freshman guards Pe’Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin made a combined five of six free throws to secure the victory.
It wasn’t as easy as it should have been given the Wolfpack’s junior-varsity showing, but the Terps earned a second day of life in Greensboro.
But now Maryland faces the big boys after taking advantage of the disinterested Wolfpack.
Following a disappointing loss to North Carolina last Saturday that cost them the ACC regular-season title, Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils have had all week to stew over their loss to the Tar Heels, an idea that doesn’t bode well for the Terps.
Maryland has already suffered the aftershock of a Duke loss this season, getting blown out in an 80-62 shellacking at Comcast Center on Feb. 2 that came three days after the Blue Devils’ embarrassing 15-point loss to St. John’s.
The Terps have lost eight of their last nine against Duke, who is undoubtedly eyeing an opportunity for revenge against the Tar Heels on Sunday. First-team all-conference seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler will have no intentions of an early exit in their final ACC tournament.
Needless to say, it won’t be easy for Maryland to pull off the upset.
But Duke isn’t the dominant force inside the paint it was a year ago, leaving the door open for a potential big night by Williams, who scored 23 points in the seven-point loss in Durham and 20 in the teams’ second meeting.
The Blue Devils always depend on the 3-pointer, but that dependence is even more dramatic this season, leaving them vulnerable on off-shooting nights.
Following his quiet two-point performance at home against Duke, Stoglin’s play came to life as the freshman reached double digits in eight of his next nine games to emerge as the second-best scorer on the team. We’ll see what he’s learned from his first two games against the Blue Devils.
The defending national champions have looked far from invincible down the stretch, losing two of three to finish the regular season.
A near-perfect game will give Maryland a legitimate chance.
It’s the type of performance we haven’t seen from the Terps all season.
But they’ll have one more chance to do it.