Greensboro, N.C. – The temptation now will be to write off Duke’s chance at another NCAA title as a forlorn hope. Do national champs lose to a Maryland team that still isn’t a lock to make the Big Dance?
That temptation, alluring as it is, is why conference tournaments often deceive. Duke, which entered ranked No. 2 in the land, lost to Maryland in the ACC quarterfinals Friday night, but all things weren’t equal. Maryland needed to win to keep hope alive. Duke didn’t need to win and, for one of the few times under Mike Krzyzewski, acted that way.
“I didn’t think we were hungry tonight,” the great man said. “They’re trying to survive and they played like it. A lot of teams in that position sometimes get nervous and make a lot of mistakes. Maryland rose to the occasion.”
Then this: “A lot of tonight is not about us and what we didn’t do. It’s about Maryland.”
Well, yeah. Maryland never trailed. It led by 10 points in the first half and by 11 in the second. It would win 83-74, and justice was served. But that’s justice on a night when Duke knew it would get a second chance. Next week it’ll be different. Duke might well be outplayed in the NCAA tournament, but it will not be outfought the way it was here.
Bottom line: If you liked Duke’s NCAA chances coming into this game, you shouldn’t waver now. The Devils hadn’t lost since Ryan Kelly returned from injury with a 36-point performance against Miami. They’ve been playing very, very well. Now they get to go home and rest for a couple of days, which isn’t often the Duke way in this event.
Krzyzewski and his Devils usually give maximum effort in the ACC tournament, which goes a ways toward explaining why they’d won the thing 10 of the past 14 times. This game was an outlier. But the loss did Duke no harm, and it might have done some good. There’s a bigger event still to be played, and nothing focuses a team like a loss.
That said, this tournament took a serious hit with Duke’s ouster. There will be no Duke-North Carolina semifinal, no chance of a third Duke meeting with Miami. At least not in this event. Maybe in the next one.