Despite problems, Duke had chance vs. Terps

COLLEGE PARK, MD — Mike Krzyzewski was in no mood to discuss the reasons his team lost 83-81 at Maryland on Saturday night.

Krzyzewski swatted away questions about Maryland’s strong rotation of big men that helped wear down Blue Devils’ senior center Mason Plumlee, about freshman Rasheed Sulaimon’s completely different halves, and even a necessary question by a Duke beat writer regarding player groupings in practice.

Second-ranked Duke found itself with an odd lineup at the end of the game after Plumlee fouled out with 26 seconds left. It included redshirt freshman wing Alex Murphy playing the five (center) spot and 6-foot-1 backup point guard Tyler Thornton playing the four.

“How can we (practice it), we don’t even have enough guys to practice again to try it,” Krzyzewski responded. “Seth’s (Curry) not practicing, Ryan’s (Kelly) not practicing, and so, when can you practice?”

An injury enables Curry, a senior guard, to practice only about 30 percent of the time and Kelly, a senior forward, has been out a month with a foot injury. But the real story for Duke isn’t what the team hasn’t been able to work on — though it would make sense given the team’s composition up front to address similar situations that arose just in case, and perhaps the Hall of Fame coach will do that now — but that Duke darn near won this game when on paper it had no chance. That is pretty remarkable and a testament to the program’s culture.

Maryland outrebounded the Blue Devils 40 to 20. Plumlee, who entered averaging 18.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per contest, had season lows of four points and three rebounds, and Duke converted just 31.6 percent of its 3-point attempts despite entering the game second in the ACC converting better than 40 percent of its tries from beyond the arc.

Also consider that Curry didn’t hit a 3-pointer until well into the second half, though he was quite effective creating conventional jumpers inside the arc, and that Sulaimon didn’t even score in the first half. Freshman forward Amile Jefferson was overmatched by Maryland’s much thicker rotation up front and point guard Quinn Cook was erratic on both ends of the floor.

But Duke fought. Duke fought like Duke does.

“I’m not going to single anyone out,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s no strategy really in this, you’re trying to survive. You’re trying to get five guys out there to fight. There’s a lot of improvisation done in this game as a result of us not being able to do the normal things we’ve been doing. Our kids reacted well to them.”

Sulaimon scored 16 points in the second half, including knocking down three clutch free throws to tie the game with 16 second left. Duke trailed by 10 points three minutes earlier.

Josh Hairston, bad thumb and all, gave Duke a gigantic lift in the first half, where he scored nine of his 11 points and helped Plumlee fight off the activity down low.

And there Duke was, with 2.8 seconds left and Maryland having called timeout after Seth Allen converted a pair of free throws. Krzyzewski diagrammed a play that darn near won it. Cook’s 35-footer from the far right wing just missed falling through the cylinder.

Cook turned away from the basket, hands resting on his head and grimacing in utter disappointment as Maryland students poured out onto the court. The moods couldn’t have been any different.

“I just have to show up,” Plumlee said. “I didn’t show up today and I let my teammates down. That’s not how I’ve played all season. I hope it doesn’t happen again, it’s all on me.”

But while Cook and Plumlee accepted responsibility for the loss, deep down Duke gained something from this game.

If Duke (22-3, 9-3 ACC) can play so poorly and out of character, as it did Saturday, and still find itself just inches from winning at frenzied Comcast Center against a desperate Maryland team fighting for postseason relevancy, it has the necessary fiber to bully its way to an NCAA Tournament win or two, unlike last season.

For all of the numbers, injuries, what-if scenarios and a coach grumpy in defeat, Duke lost only a game at Maryland. But it may have gained, otherwise.