Plumlee’s struggles put Blue Devils in tough spot

lkeeley@newsobserver.comFebruary 17, 2013 

— As soon as his 30-foot runner bounced off the back rim, Quinn Cook put his hands on his head and dropped his chin toward the ground. Around him, students streamed from the stands out onto the court to celebrate the Terrapins’ 83-81 upset win against Duke.

The exhilarated fans engulfed Cook and the rest of the team. Todd Zafirovski, the former walk-on turned scholarship player, found Cook in the scrum and put his arm around him, shielding against any overzealous students as the two walked off the floor.

“It was just him being a good teammate,” Cook said quietly in the subdued visitors’ locker room.

That was about all the Blue Devils could do for each other, as their game plan had to be scrapped due to Mason Plumlee’s ineffectiveness. The big man, who entered the game as a serious national player of the year candidate, scored four points – all in the first half – and pulled down just three rebounds in 33 minutes. He also had two assists and two turnovers along with five second-half fouls.

“I didn’t show up to play today and I let my teammates down,” said Plumlee, sitting a few feet from Cook. “That’s not how I’ve played all season. I hope it doesn’t happen again. It’s all on me.”

Without Plumlee, the Blue Devils were left with a new lineup for the last 26 seconds of the game: Cook, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon in the backcourt, Tyler Thornton at power forward and Alex Murphy at center. The group had never practiced together – “How can we? We don’t even have enough guys in practice to try it against,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said – but they were able to tie the game. After drawing a foul on a 3-point shot, Sulaimon calmly hit three free throws (with a Maryland timeout in between the second and third) to tie the game at 81-81 with 16 seconds remaining.

But when it came time to defend Maryland’s last possession, communication broke down, switches weren’t covered properly and the Terrapins’ Seth Allen dribbled past Cook to the basket. Cook fouled Allen, and Tyler Thornton started jawing at the Maryland freshman as he went to the line. But Allen, like Sulaimon, remained calm under pressure and hit his free throws, sealing the Terrapins’ win against what they consider their archrival.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon had tears in his eyes as he tried to put his emotions into words.

“I wanted to beat Duke,” he said. “This means a lot to me. I talked about it in the summer – ‘God, if we beat Duke, I’m going to be in the student section, I’m going to be hanging out with the students.’ It means a lot to me.”

Moments before, Krzyzewski had waved away notions that the game had special significance.

“If it was such a rivalry they’d still be in the ACC,” he said. “Obviously they don’t think it’s that important, or they wouldn’t be in the Big Ten.

“We’ve had some great games with them, but we have great games against a lot of people. A lot of people want to beat us, and they’re one of them.”

It was Maryland’s first win against Duke since March 3, 2010, when Gary Williams and Greivis Vasquez were still around. Since they left, there hasn’t been much reason to celebrate on the hardwood in College Park – no NCAA tournament berths and no wins against Duke. But Saturday night, the Terrapins, despite their 26 turnovers, seized the opportunity to beat the Blue Devils one more time.

And for everyone in the building dressed in red and yellow, it was meaningful.

“It’s a big win for our team and our program,” center Alex Len said. “I know our fans have waited for this win for four years.”

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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