A Maryland team desperate for a noteworthy win to revive its fading NCAA tournament hopes eked out an 83-81 victory despite coughing up a 10-point lead in the final four minutes.
After Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon's three free throws tied the game at 81 with 17 seconds to go in regulation, Maryland freshman Seth Allen responded by driving to the rim and drawing a foul on Quinn Cook with 2.8 seconds remaining. A grinning Allen sank both foul shots, a pained Cook narrowly missed a running 30 footer at the buzzer and hundreds of Maryland fans flooded the floor in celebration of the Terps' biggest win of the season.
Had Maryland (18-7, 6-6) lost Saturday night, it would have basically removed the Terps from at-large consideration. Their lone quality win prior to Saturday was NC State, their RPI was hovering around 70 and their only remaining game against a RPI Top 50 squad was against North Carolina on March 6.
Still only .500 in league play with no non-conference wins of significance, Maryland is far from an NCAA tournament shoo-in even now. Nonetheless, the Terps now have a glimmer of hope if they can beat the teams they're supposed to prior to the final two games of the ACC season against the Tar Heels and fellow bubble team Virginia.
For a Duke team aiming for a league title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the ramifications of the loss are also significant. The Devils' chances of running down Miami for the ACC championship look remote at best now that the first-place Hurricanes hold a three-game lead in the loss column with three weeks remaining.
It's hard to believe Maryland was able to pull off the win despite 26 turnovers, eight by Allen alone. The suspension of guard Pe'Shon Howard certainly didn't help matters, but as coach Mark Turgeon candidly told ESPN at halftime, "It's just what we do."
What enabled the Terps to overcome the avalanche of turnovers was they did so many other things right.
Alex Len dominated his individual low-post matchup with Mason Plumlee, scoring 19 points on only eight shots, holding Plumlee to a season-low four points and swatting away a pair of the Duke senior's shots in the second half. Maryland also shot 60 percent from the field and got at least eight points from six different players, hurting the Blue Devils in the paint and off the dribble.
Seth Curry kept Duke in the game in the first half with his torrid shooting and Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon carried the offense in the second half, but too many defensive miscues and too little production from Plumlee hurt Duke's chances of winning.
The Blue Devils will still have at least one more game against Maryland before the Terps depart for the Big Ten after the 2013-14 season, but in all likelihood this was the last time the two schools will meet in College Park for a while. That's a shame because this is a series that annually delivers high-intensity, emotion-packed matchups and produced some of the most memorable games this century at its peak in the early 2000s.
Saturday's game won't go down in the history books with Jay Williams' miracle minute or Greivis Vasquez's ACC title-clinching buzzer beater, but Maryland fans won't complain about the outcome. A thwarted comeback, a season-saving win and a court storming? Not a bad night for the Terps.