DURHAM—Amile Jefferson sat in the plush, leather-covered folding chair in front of his locker and grabbed the the shoulders of his jersey.
"We’re wearing our vintage Duke jerseys, and this was a vintage Duke game that was won on defense, on the last play," Jefferson said. "That’s how Duke players win, and that’s how they protect their home."
Maryland’s final possession came down to an inbounds play with 6.4 seconds left, as the Terrapins trailed by one. The Blue Devils had committed to switching on all screens, so that’s how Rodney Hood ended up on the 260-pound, post-playing Charles Mitchell (Jefferson started on him but picked up Jake Layman, Hood’s man, running around Mitchell’s screen).
"Strong fella," Hood said of Mitchell. "But he caught it, I thought he was going to hand it off, but he went to the basket. I just tried to body up and be tall and make him shoot it over the top. The basketball gods were good, it rolled out."
Six-foot-2 Tyler Thornton out-jumped 6-foot-5 Dez Wells and managed to tip the ball out to Jefferson, who was fouled and thus able to seal the win at Duke’s free-throw line.
"That’s what Tyler does," Mike Krzyzewski said. "It’s not a stat play, but it’s a play that wins the game."
On the Maryland bench, coach Mark Turgeon jumped up and down, as if his stomps could reverse gravity and draw the ball back up and into the basket.
"The guys willed their way to the basket, it just didn’t drop," Turgeon said. "I thought it was in. I don’t know if you ever deserve to win, but I felt that our kids deserved a better fate than that."
Maryland had a final possession thanks to a shot-clock violation at the other end. It took awhile to sort out exactly what happened—initially, Jefferson had rebounded his wild, bank shot miss at the end of the shot clock and called timeout, but a review showed the ball had never touched the rim. The clock had 18.8 ticks left.
"While we were waiting, all of our players said—it wasn’t anything we said as coaches—all our players were just saying, ‘Coach, we said it was going to end up on defense, let’s play defense,’" Krzyzewski said. "It was all the guys saying that. And then they made that happen. They took ownership of that last possession. That’s a beautiful thing when that happens."
***The Blue Devils actually turned in their worst shooting half of the season to close out the Maryland game, hitting just 23.1 percent of their attempts from the field in the final 20 minutes. That was worse than the 25 percent mark from the field in the second half of the loss at Clemson.
"We didn’t score for about seven minutes, and (Dez) Wells took over," Krzyzewski said. "I thought during that time toward the end of those seven minutes, you don’t see it going in, and it can have an impact on you. In that split-second, Wells took advantage where we didn’t play good defense."
Marshall Plumlee hit a put-back lay-in off of an offensive rebound at the 13:50 mark in the second half to put Duke up 49-40. Duke’s next field goal came when Jefferson made a lay-up with 6:36 left to tie the score at 56-56.
Wells scored his first points at the 12:57 mark, three possessions after Plumlee’s make. The Raleigh native, who grew up a Duke fan (but wasn’t recruited by the Blue Devils), finished 7-of-11 from the field for 17 points.
Obviously free throws helped Duke stay in the game while everything else was missing the basket. The Blue Devils finished 28-of-34 from the line (82.4 percent), their second-best mark on the season. Maryland went 12-for-19 (63.2 percent).
***After his best outing of the ACC season against Boston College, (7-of-10, 5-of-7 from 3, 21 points, three assists, one steal, no turnovers), Quinn Cook turned in one of his worst against the hometown Terrapins. His final line: 1-for-4 from the field, 0-of-2 from 3, six points, two steals, no assists, three turnovers in a season-low 14 minutes. And one moment where he absolutely lost his composure, throwing a water cup in frustration, with Nate James taking an extended period of time to calm him down. I can’t remember another Duke player losing his cool like that in this season or last.
Cook is going to need to be much stronger, mentally, when five-star point guard Tyus Jones arrives this summer. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the pass-first Jones isn’t coming to sit the bench.
***On the other end of the spectrum is Rasheed Sulaimon, who forms an effective point guard platoon with Thornton. Krzyzewski credited Sulaimon’s defense on Maryland point guard Seth Allen (seven points, two assists, three turnovers) after the game.
Krzyzewski also pointed out the one obvious flaw still left in Sulaimon’s game: he’s not a particularly effective finisher at the rim.
"Because he can make multiple plays on his drive, sometimes he doesn't finish the shot," Krzyzewski said. "Like right at the end of the (first) half, he had an opening to get in. Again, he gets by people, and he’s doing well. If he starts finishing, he takes his game up another level."
***Thornton, a D.C. native who thrived in the game, made sure Mitchell wasn’t hurt as he laid on the ground after his final shot wouldn’t fall. Classy move.
Thornton also made a nice, succinct point after the end of the Duke-Maryland era: "College basketball is going to miss this game."
***The quote of the day, though, goes to Krzyzewski, when asked if there was something extra special about beating Maryland: "There’s not anyone that we’ve beaten that I haven’t liked."
***And, as a final ode to the rivalry that was, a top-five ranking of the best atmospheres I’ve encountered on the Duke beat in the past two seasons, with game stories attached for your memory-lane indulgence:
5) March 2, 2013, No. 5 Duke 79, No. 3 Miami 76, Cameron Indoor Stadium
4) Feb. 15, 2014, No. 8 Duke 69, Maryland 67, Cameron Indoor Stadium
3) Jan. 12, 2013, No. 20 N.C. State 84, No. 1 Duke 76, PNC Arena
2) Feb. 16, 2013, Maryland 83, No. 2 Duke 81 Comcast Center
1) Feb. 1, 2014, No. 2 Syracuse 91, No. 17 Duke 89, Carrier Dome