Before the ACC tournament, Maryland coach Gary Williams said two wins should put his team in position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
A third one couldn’t hurt, but it probably won’t be easy.
The seventh-seeded Terrapins look to continue their strong tournament play and pad their postseason resume by beating ninth-ranked and third-seeded Duke for the first time in more than two years when the teams meet in a semifinals matchup Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Maryland (20-12) came into the conference tournament hoping to impress the selection committee. The Terps’ 74-69 win over North Carolina State in the first round was a solid start, and their 75-64 upset of second-seeded and eighth-ranked Wake Forest on Friday might have put them over the top.
“I just wanted our players to understand if we won two, we would be in pretty good shape,” said Williams, who joked that he made “Win 2” T-shirts for his team to wear to Atlanta. “Now if we don’t win tomorrow, it’s not because we came with the ‘Win 2’ T-shirts.”
While the Terps think two wins should be enough to get them into the 65-team field, beating the Blue Devils (26-6) would definitely make it harder for the selection committee to overlook them for the second consecutive year.
“I’m not sure,” junior guard Eric Hayes said. “All we can do is go out (Saturday) and try to get another win on our resume.”
The Blue Devils’ spot in the NCAA tournament is secure, but Duke is still competing for a chance to get one of the top seeds. It’ll have a better shot if it can extend its dominance over Maryland.
The Blue Devils have won their last four games against the Terps by an average of 18.3 points, including an 85-44 blowout on Jan. 24 in Durham. They held Maryland to a season-low 28.1 percent shooting while handing the Terps their most lopsided loss since 1963.
Maryland kept it closer in the rematch, but Duke outscored it 18-7 in the final 5:22 of the 78-67 victory on Feb. 25.
The Blue Devils are still alive in this tournament after holding off Boston College 66-65 on Friday night. Gerald Henderson scored the go-ahead basket with 34 seconds remaining and Duke forced Boston College to miss its last two shots to pull out the victory.
“We didn’t play our best basketball, but we did when it counted,” said sophomore forward Kyle Singler, who led the Blue Devils with 26 points, nine rebounds and a career-high six blocks while going 10-for-15 from the field. “We made the plays when we had to. We showed good character.”
Duke shot just 32.0 percent from the field in the first half before making 63.6 percent of its shots in the final 20 minutes. Coach Mike Krzyzewski was disappointed with his team’s early effort in its first game at the Georgia Dome, but was encouraged with the strong finish.
“This was our first time shooting in this place,” said Krzyzewski, whose team skipped Wednesday’s practice. “We were not able to get accustomed to the environment. Hopefully we’re accustomed to it now.”
Henderson scored 18.0 points per game and shot 53.8 percent (14-for-26) in Duke’s two wins over Maryland this season.
Terps forward Landon Milbourne averaged 19.0 points and shot 62.5 percent (15-for-24) in those games.
The winner of this game will advance to the finals to face either No. 1 seed North Carolina or No. 4 seed Florida State.