GREENSBORO, NC — Duke didn’t have energy Friday night. The Blue Devils said so themselves.
As a result, the No. 2 seed lost to No. 7 seed Maryland 83-74 in the quarterfinals of the 60th ACC Tournament, an event Duke had won in 10 of the previous 14 years.
“We just didn’t come out with energy,” Devils’ sophomore point guard Quinn Cook said. “They came and punched us in the moth – they threw the first punch. We fought back but they made some key plays down the stretch.”
Blue Devils’ coach Mike Krzyzewski has always put tremendous emphasis on winning this tournament because it determines the true conference champion. And he loves being a champion.
But Duke won’t cut down the nets Sunday afternoon, and instead will be back in Durham, maybe even practicing while two other squads battle it out for ACC supremacy. But this isn’t exactly the worst thing to happen to Duke.
To win, or at least play in the championship game, would have meant three games in 44 hours, and given the high ankle injury to senior guard Seth Curry and the foot injury to senior forward Ryan Kelly, that could have been problematic. In fact, in a read-between-the-lines way, Krzyzewski suggested last Saturday night Duke may approach this weekend different than usual.
“We want to do a great job in Greensboro but we have to be careful just how we bring our team along so we’re fresh for the following week,” he said.
Ironically, the player rotation was no different, perhaps because Maryland opened up a 12-2 lead and the Blue Devils were playing catch up the rest of the night. At that point, Krzyzewski couldn’t afford to dig into his bench. Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson weren’t going to lead a comeback.
But while Krzyzewski’s team scrapped and remained within striking distance, it just couldn’t dig down and find that other level that Duke often reaches to overcome obstacles or simply put teams away.
“It’s definitely surprising because of the energy we didn’t come with…,” Cook said. “We had all the momentum coming in with a win against a great North Carolina team. It’s inexcusable to come out with no energy.”
Duke shot just 41.5 percent from the field, including a mesmerizing 16 percent (4-for-25) from 3-point range. Seth Curry, who was on fire in winning at UNC last Saturday, was just 4-for-10 overall and 2-7 from beyond the arc. The Terrapins won the rebounding battle by 10 and Duke managed just two fast-break points.
“We weren’t the Duke team that’s played most of this season, especially these last couple of weeks,” Krzyzewski said. “So, I’m disappointed in our performance, but also very impressed with the performance of Maryland.”
The Terrapins (22-11) may have catapulted themselves into the NCAA Tournament with the victory. Virginia lost earlier this afternoon here at the Greensboro Coliseum and Tennessee and Kentucky lost in the SEC Tournament today, as well.
For Duke, a No. 1 seed Sunday night might have been sacrificed with the defeat. Duke is now 27-5 and didn’t win either its regular season or conference tournament titles. Nobody knows for sure how the NCAA selection committee will weigh such things, if they do at all.
Even if Duke doesn’t get a No. 1 seed, there still is a silver lining to this defeat. Curry’s and Kelly’s injuries won’t take such a pounding this weekend, and they can rest and heal for next week, although Kelly doesn’t entirely see it that way.
“That’s not the way we think about it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought it.”
Duke can now focus on the big picture. Player rotations, minutes distributed and a certain number of games in a certain number of hours don’t matter anymore.
Even with this loss, Duke is still one of the favorites to win the national championship, and it’s possible its lethargic approach and subsequent early exit here may increase those chances.