COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Three days removed from a performance they’d like to forget, the Duke Blue Devils picked up a victory Wednesday night they won’t soon forget.
Getting key contributions from a variety of players, the fifth-ranked Blue Devils defeated Maryland 80-62 in the Comcast Center, earning their eighth win in the last nine games against their ACC rival.
It didn’t come easily but unlike the Blue Devils’ forgettable performance against St. John’s on Sunday, this time they came through with a critical victory in a difficult environment.
“It’s our best win of the year,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, citing the atmosphere, the importance of the game and the adversity the Blue Devils overcame in the game.
The victory gave Duke (20-2, 7-1) its 15th consecutive season with at least 20 victories and allowed the Blue Devils to remain in first place in the ACC.
It was an ensemble effort by the Blue Devils. They got 22 points from Kyle Singler, who had a brilliant second-half stretch, and 21 from Nolan Smith. But the Blue Devils had more than that on a night when they needed it.
Mason Plumlee’s 12-point, 11-rebound effort was his best game at Duke, Krzyzewski said, while Andre Dawkins hit a pair of critical second-half 3-pointers after Maryland had carved Duke’s lead to five points.
Then there was the 28-minute effort of freshman guard Tyler Thornton, who made his first career start and allowed Smith more freedom on defense without having to guard the Maryland ballhandlers.
Throw in only eight turnovers against Maryland’s aggressive defense, effectively limiting the Terps’ ability to create offense off takeaways, and the Blue Devils cleansed themselves of the residue from their ugly loss on Sunday.
“We were ready to play this game and flush it out,” Smith said. “Everybody’s been talking about (the St. John’s game). Everybody had us losing again. We were ready to get it behind us.”
Working the perimeter, Singler scored five straight second-half baskets for the Blue Devils, looking almost flawless in the process. He started with a tough jumper crossing the lane the nailed four straight from outside, including a 3-pointer, holding the pose on his follow-through after each shot as Duke held a 56-43 lead.
Maryland got within five points with less than 10 minutes to play but couldn’t get any closer. A pair of Dawkins 3-pointers stalled the Terps’ comeback and allowed the Blue Devils to extend their lead.
The St. John’s game became a memory.
“Sometimes you’re just a little flat. We were a lot flat,” Krzyzewski said.
“To come on the road three days later and win is really huge for this team. Most teams wouldn’t be able to do that. We grew up and we got tougher.”
After their considerable shooting difficulties against St. John’s three days earlier when they missed 20 of their first 21 3-point attempts, the Blue Devils had no such trouble early against the Terrapins.
They hit six of their first nine shots from beyond the arc, including a run of four straight 3-pointers in a three-minute stretch that allowed them to build a 38-23 lead and mute the Maryland crowd.
The Terps scored the last seven points of the first half to hit the locker room with a bit of bounce, having carved Duke’s advantage down to 40-33 at the break.
Photo: Duke's Kyle Singler smiles after hitting a 3-pointer in the second half. CHUCK LIDDY - newsobserver.com