With the score tied at 81, Seth Allen stepped to the free throw line with 2.8 seconds remaining in regulation. Facing a mountain of pressure, Allen hit both of the shots, and as each one swished through the hoop, the noise inside Comcast Center grew louder and louder.
Duke’s Quinn Cook took a final desperation heave as time expired, but the shot clanged off the rim, ending the game and sending Maryland’s fans streaming onto the court for the second time this season.
The scoreboard read: Maryland – 83, Duke – 81.
“There was no doubt in my mind he was going to make them,” coach Mark Turgeon said of Allen’s late free throws.
With its postseason chances hanging on by a thin thread, Maryland took the court on Saturday in search of a resume-building win against the No. 2 ranked team in the country. After losing six of their last 10 games, the Terps did just that, topping Duke, 83-81, in front of a sold-out and raucous crowd inside Comcast Center.
With the win, the Terps (18-7, 6-6 ACC) snapped a six-game losing streak against the Blue Devils (22-3, 9-3), picking up their first victory in the series since 2010, when Greivis Vasquez shimmied his way up and down the court. Historical context aside, though, the win was paramount for the Terps’ postseason chances this year.
“We never quit. We never had a doubt we would win the game,” Turgeon said. “I’m just really proud of my kids. I really worked them hard this week. I challenged them in a lot of different areas … It’s one thing to play Duke close. It’s another thing to beat them. We figured out how to beat them by two. It’s a great win for us.”
“It will be a game I never forget,” James Padgett added. “It was a big win for us. Hopefully we use it as a momentum builder. The fans were in it from the start. We fed off it.”
Despite never trailing in the second half, the game wasn’t without some late drama. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Duke’s Seth Curry followed by a Jake Layman foul on Rasheed Sulaimon, who converted on all three attempts from the charity stripe, led to a tie game and Allen’s heroics.
Allen took Cook out on an isolation drive, beating him to open space under the hoop, before being fouled and stepping up to the free throw line.
Two swishes and a missed shot later gave Maryland its second resume-building win of the season.
“It means a lot. Just to be able to beat a team of that caliber, it shows everybody how good we are and how good we can be,” Allen said. “We had 26 turnovers and beat them. Imagine if we slimmed down the turnovers how different of a game it would have been.”
Alex Len (19 points, nine rebounds, three blocks), Dez Wells (nine points, seven assists) and Allen (16 points) led the way for Maryland, which had each one of its nine rotational players score at least three points. The Terps put forth one of their best offensive performances of the season, shooting 60 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from 3-point range.
Maryland fed off the energy of the crowd inside Comcast Center early in the game, trading blows with Duke and going toe-to-toe with the college basketball heavyweight through the game’s first 20 minutes. Both teams shot 50 percent or better from the floor in the first half, and the lead changed hands 10 times and was tied twice.
Despite an offensive barrage from Seth Curry – the Duke guard made his first six shots and scored 14 points in the first half before finishing with a game-high 25 – the Terps played the Blue Devils tough with strong play from Len and Nick Faust, who combined for 15 points in the opening frame, and stingy team defense.
After the Terps’ defense held Duke scoreless for the final 2:15 of the first half, Faust drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 33 seconds left to give Maryland a one-point lead at intermission, 35-34.
The scene was set to finish like most of Maryland’s recent outings against Duke, when the Terps would feed off the crowd’s energy and hang around in the first half before faltering late.
But the Terps didn't budge.
Maryland never trailed again, and the only time Duke tied the score was after Sulaimon’s three free throws to bring each team to 81 points apiece.
Then Allen’s free throws sent fans streaming onto the court and flooding into the streets of downtown College Park.
“I know what it means to our fan base,” Turgeon said. “I wanted to beat Duke. This means a lot to me. I talk about it in the summer. If we beat Duke, I’m going to be in the student section. I’m going to hang out with the students. This game means a lot to me.”