Commentary

Blue Devils continue to quietly take care of business

Updated: January 28, 2008, 1:03 AM ET
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland coach Gary Williams had already grabbed his bag and quietly slipped out of the bowels of the Comcast Center while Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski lingered behind to flash his commercial game-winning smile and glad-hand parents and fans waiting outside the visiting locker room.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Nelson
AP Photo/Rob CarrDuke's DeMarcus Nelson came through with 19 of his 27 points in the second half.
The No. 3 Blue Devils had made themselves at home on the road. Again.

While most of the national spotlight this season has been on the likes of Memphis and Kansas (and deservedly so), Duke (17-1, 5-0 ACC) has yet to be consistently mentioned in the same breath and has been playing in the shadow of conference rival North Carolina.

Clearly, the Devils don't care.

Duke has gone quietly about its business and on Sunday night -- in front of a passionate Maryland crowd still soaring from last week's upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina -- did it again with a 93-84 win over the Terps.

In case nobody noticed, Duke is the only team still undefeated in ACC play.

"If we go far enough with this thing, people will start talking about us," senior guard DeMarcus Nelson said. "No worries."

Krzyzewski scoffed at the notion that his program ever flies under the radar, ("Otherwise, these people wouldn't be out there or in our place trying to beat us," he said), but conceded that this year's group isn't exactly fearsome.

"We're not an outstanding team," Krzyzewski said of his Blue Devils, whose one loss came against Pitt. "We're a good team that's playing real hard. You can see from our lineups, sometimes everybody is 6-5 and under, so that's not going to evoke fear. We just have to collectively try to figure out how to win. So far they've done that, and they've done a really good job of that."

The top criticism of Duke this season has been its lack of a legitimate post player, and Clemson and Maryland have both exposed it, but the Blue Devils have compensated for it by pressuring the ball and forcing turnovers. Maryland senior Bambale Osby, a physically imposing forward whose old-school Afro is as retro as his back-to-the-basket game, and senior James Gist, whose play has been the barometer of the Terps' success this season, combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds against Duke. Nelson called them the "toughest frontcourt we've played all year."

But his seven rebounds, along with six from Nolan Smith and five from Gerald Henderson, were one of the reasons Duke was able to dig out of its biggest deficit of the season (nine points) -- despite having two starters benched with four fouls each. It was the first time the Blue Devils had trailed at halftime.

[+] EnlargeCoach K
AP Photo/Rob CarrCoach K said his team's effort in the second half was the most impressive of the season.
"They're strong guys," Smith said of Osby and Gist. "They fight as hard as they can, but our perimeter has been our strength all season long with the depth, and we have multiple bodies we can go to on the perimeter. Our guards really had to help rebound. DeMarcus and Gerald are both strong guards who can jump, so as our bigs are boxing out, our guards can get those rebounds and help them out."

Krzyzewski called his team's effort in the second half the most impressive of the season. With just over nine minutes remaining and those two starters on the bench in foul trouble, the Blue Devils had to find another answer. Smith, who took two days off from practice to rehab a hyperextended knee from the Clemson game, was one of them. So was Henderson (23 points), as well as Nelson (27 points).

Maryland's supposed inside advantage was one of several intangibles the Terps had going in their favor -- along with the fact they just shocked the top-ranked Tar Heels with a stunning 82-80 upset Jan. 19. Somehow, the same team that lost to American and Ohio at home (the latter, in retrospect, not being such a bad loss, as Ohio is a top-50 RPI team) knocked off the top team in the country on the road. The Terps just weren't able to hang on to that momentum from one game to another, not even from one half to the next.

Maryland's inconsistent play from the first period to the second against Duke was a microcosm of its split personality this season.

"I think we're playing a lot harder than we did in December," Gist said. "I don't see anything to scratch my head about. … In the second half, we kind of felt complacent to how we played in the first half and thought, I guess, the game would've been won as long as we came out and just got through the second half. But that's not how you approach games like this, not how you play against [a] top-five team in the nation. It's another learning lesson for us. We've got to realize that."

Asked Sunday what his team needs to do to win tough games, Williams said, "We're doing it."

"We've won six out of our last eight games," he said. "We beat the No. 1 team in the country and had the No. 3 team in the country down nine at halftime. We just didn't get it done in the second half. We're not perfect."

Osby said Maryland is experiencing some growing pains, as it's the first season he's starting and in a leadership position, as well as the first time sophomore guard Greivis Vasquez is playing without former Terps D.J. Strawberry and Mike Jones around him.

"We have to learn from this, man," Osby said. "We gotta learn to play with a lead. We've got to learn to calm it down. We've got to learn to stay focused, and we've got to learn not to get flustered. We got flustered. We panicked. We were rushing shots, rushing passes that just weren't necessary, and they capitalized on every one of them."

Something Duke has been doing all season.

Heather Dinich is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.

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