Despite those first-half shortcomings, Duke went to the locker room leading the Terrapins, 32-29—a world apart from the 14-point halftime deficit they dug themselves at home against Miami last Sunday—and so there was every reason to be optimistic about the Blue Devils' chances in the second half.
First, Duke came out disjointed and hazy to open the game, and as a fit metaphor, their new, specially designed "Hyper Elite Platinum" uniforms (courtesy of a well-known athletic wear concern) also looked disjointed and hazy. Perhaps the Blue Devils were still in the surreal psychic confetti of Wednesday's instant-legend comeback win over North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Duke scored just three points in the first 6:40 against Maryland—"I thought they played really well defensively against us throughout the first half," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski would later say—and the Terrapins were driving to the basket with confidence. Duke woke up and outscored them 29-19 for the remainder of the half, and seemed to be gaining control of the game as the teams went to their clubhouses.
Second, you had to figure that a Blue Devil or two would get hot in the second stanza—maybe Andre Dawkins or Ryan Kelly, a combined 1-6 in the first half, with two fouls each. Third, there is no question that Duke is better than Maryland in terms of talent and depth, even more so than they were when they beat the Terps at Maryland on January 25: The day before yesterday's game, the news broke that starting Terrapin point guard Pe'Shon Howard was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Fourth, Duke was playing at home, and it was loudly tweeted about the land before the game that the student section at Cameron was full—of actual students, this time. There were more handmade signs to hold high; there was more noise; there was more body paint; during the pregame, the video board showed Austin Rivers' electrifying buzzer-beater that sunk the Tar Heels on Wednesday night, and the crowd went berserk. The Crazie-ness, in other words, was back.
And then, this: As Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski followed his team across the court and toward the clubhouse after the first half ended, he stopped in front of the Duke student section, most of the way down towards the visitor's baseline. Looking livid and furious, Krzyzewski screamed at them:
"WE DON'T SIT! WE DON'T SIT!"
Then he stalked off the court, leaving his audience in shock and awe.
Duke scored the first six points of the second half, getting the ball inside repeatedly, and Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon called a timeout to stanch the flow. It worked briefly. The Terrapins got back to within four points, but soon enough Duke pushed the lead back out to ten when Andre Dawkins made his first shot of the game, a three-pointer from the wing at the 14:08 mark.
Maryland called another timeout, and then Krzyzewski was working the student section again, rising from his seat on the Duke bench and summoning a new surge of crowd noise with his raised and outstretched arms. Over the next three minutes, the Blue Devils missed three of four shots and both of their free throws (Mason Plumlee, 2-6 in the second half from the line after a 4-4 first half), and committed three fouls.
Maryland did not quite take advantage, though, and when Seth Curry—who had an excellent overall game, and not only because of his game-high 19 points—hit a three-pointer and then a jumper within a 30-second span, it was 53-40, Duke, and the game was just about in the bag.
But it did not join the cat in there just yet. Maryland scored the next nine points over just two minutes, to come back within four points at the 8:45 mark. It was not until four minutes later, when Austin Rivers hit a three-pointer to run Duke's lead back out to 11 points, that the Blue Devils really regained control of the game. Maryland made just two baskets over the game's final 8:45, and Duke third-geared it to the finish line. The final margin, 73-55, did not indicate the overall closeness of the contest. This was a classic, mid-season conference win for a (Hyper) elite (Platinum) team, one in which they simply and without flash wore down a hungry, opportunistic but young and out-manned lesser team.
After Duke's extraordinary win over North Carolina on Wednesday, Krzyzewski and his staff went right back to work to motivate the Blue Devils again. That came partially in the form of videos.
"We tried to show them two things," Krzyzewski said in his postgame comments. "One was: getting over something big." He appeared to mean that it's harder to find competitive drive in the afterglow of victory, and in the comforts of home, than it is following a loss or on the road. Success breeds complacency; adversity is the mother of attention. Duke had not only lost to Miami last weekend, they faced North Carolina in Chapel Hill; thus, the Blue Devils had twin spurs that prodded them on to their last-second win over the Tar Heels.
Afterwards, they had no built-in mechanism to get themselves revved up for Maryland, a team they had already beaten once this season. The videos did some of the work, but when Krzyzewski yelled "We don't sit!" at the undergraduate cheering section, he may really have been directing his rage at his own team. Having beaten their arch rival, miraculously, and re-ascended to the top of the ACC, where they now share a three-way tie with UNC and Florida State, the last thing Krzyzewski was going to do was allow his team to let its collective fanny sink comfortably into the cushion of its newly recaptured driver's seat.
To that end, the players watched footage of Duke's 1991 Final Four game against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, in which the Blue Devils avenged one of the worst defeats of Krzyzewski's career, topplin' the Runnin' Rebels one year after UNLV trounced them by 30 points in the 1990 national championship game. The 1991 triumph was "one of the biggest things that's happened to me in my career," Krzyzewski said.
One of the often forgotten details of the 1991 turnabout is that the win over heavily favored UNLV did not give the Blue Devils the trophy: it was a semifinal game, and two days later Duke downed (Roy Williams') Kansas to claim the title. Krzyzewski explained that the 1991 outcome was big for him because it was "not just winning the national championship, but winning the national championship after our fans thought we had already won the national championship by beating Vegas and cutting their streak."
Kryzyewski continued: "I think that's what separates people. A lot of people overcome adversity... but overcoming a big event is huge. It's tough. In order to be a champion, to be..." Here he paused, searching for a word, feeling his way through his own thought process: "Exceptional," he finally decided. "I'll use that word," he said, addressing with a grin one veteran sportswriter in particular, as though conceding that "exceptional" is a term Krzyzewski has perhaps some history of overusing.
"You have to go on to the next thing," Krzyzewski concluded, and then quickly went on indeed to the next thing: the second video he and his staff showed the players, which was highlights of "what that team two years ago did on this weekend."
That Duke team, like the 1991 edition, won the national championship (in case this year's players weren't clear on what the message was). What they did on "this weekend" in 2010 was rip Maryland by 19 points at Cameron, Krzyzewski's 1000th game as Duke's coach.
In that game, Brian Zoubek made his first start of the season, put up a huge double-double (16 points, 17 rebounds), and established himself as a legitimate post player. Zoubek's emergence against Maryland that day put the last piece in place for Duke, and less than two months later they were cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.
As if on cue, senior Miles Plumlee, long a functional but never dominant player, had something close to the game of his life. He collected a career-high 22 rebounds—the entire Maryland team had 33—added 13 points, and was a good part of the reason that Maryland's post offense was virtually nonexistent.
"And he didn't even start," Krzyzewski said, after telling the media that "it's the most rebounds a player has ever had that I've coached in 37 years."
There is plenty to say about those two videos and their import. To take the second part first, you can talk all you want about the possible hangover from the win over North Carolina, about the lore of the 1991 and 2010 teams, about the choice to show not just any old game of domination but specifically one against Duke's next opponent, and about the impact generally of motivational strategies. In the end, though, the game is decided by execution on the court. Krzyzewski himself said that the difference in the game was "rebounds and turnovers." Duke's +15 rebounding margin over Maryland was its largest against an ACC opponent this season, and the Blue Devils committed just a single turnover in the second half. (They also shot a much more respectable 45.2 percent.)
A 22-rebound performance is very awesome. When it comes from a player averaging 5.8 per game this season, and less than that over two previous years as a significant contributor, it is of course an anomaly. To use a baseball analogy, it's kind of like a solid but unspectacular utility infielder driving in seven runs in a single game: a fluke, and one arranged by circumstance more than by skill or talent level. Maryland's forwards gave up a couple of inches and 20-30 pounds to Miles Plumlee (and to brother Mason, who added 10 rebounds and 16 points on the way to a sibling double-double-double). The Terrapins' work-in-progress center, Alex Len, though 7-foot-1, is 20 pounds lighter than Plumlee, slow and ungainly, and appears to be made of pipe cleaners.
Also, Maryland shot only 37.5 percent yesterday, missing 32 attempts, and Duke missed 40 shots. There were a lot of rebounds to get. Maryland's Terrell Stoglin alone missed 12 of the Terps' 32, largely because he was forced to take over at point guard with Howard's injury-caused absence. Unable to get free via off-the-ball screens, he had to try to create openings for himself. Duke keyed in on him, making him take contested, low-percentage shots. He scored only 13 points, nine below his ACC-leading season average, and just two in the second half, when he was so ineffective that his coach benched him for a spell. That perceived slight prompted Stoglin to tweet his sarcastic displeasure after the game: "Loved sittin that bench today. [Smh] wow." (He later deleted the tweet and apologized.)
A little aside here: This season, Krzyzewski has frequently emphasized his team's youth, but he's got nothing on Maryland, which has just one upperclassman, Sean Mosley, who plays significant minutes, and a first-year coach still trying to reach his players. Pe'Shon Howard missed the first part of the season with a broken foot, averaged a team-high 32.9 minutes per game upon his return, and then was lost again for good just days ago. Len, the intriguing but raw redshirt freshman center from the Ukraine, was forced to sit out the first 10 games of the season in accordance with NCAA amateurism guidelines, whatever in the Sam Hill those actually are.
This Terpentine column, about yesterday's Stoglin misbehavior and the team's overall trials, is illuminating, a reminder to all that there are, in every game, two teams on the court, each dealing with its own issues. First-year head coach Turgeon spoke at length yesterday after the game, and his grim face and disappointed words over the loss of Howard spoke volumes: Just as Maryland was starting to make good on its potential, playing much more competitive basketball over its last four games, they lost their point guard. And unlike Duke, they have no history to draw on for inspiration: no 1991 UNLV game, no Zoubekian breakout performances on the way to national-championship destiny. Turgeon is brand new, and has virtually no connection to the 2002 trophy Maryland won under Gary Williams. The players are young, and they keep missing games. The program's (Hyper) elite (Platinum) luster has been gone for a decade. (Do watch out down the road, however, for 6-foot-6 swing guard Nick Faust, who is going to be a star in the ACC.)
All of that, too, factors into Miles Plumlee's 22 rebounds, along with his unquestionably heroic and determined effort—I was just as impressed by his running up from behind to poke the ball away from a fast-breaking Terrapin to force a turnover. The game's greatest pleasure happened right after it was over: Mobbed by his teammates in front of the Duke bench, Plumlee lowered his head and shoulder like a bull, and charged gleefully through the scrum.
Minutes later, Krzyzewski walked off the court for the second time in an hour. This time, he stopped in front of the Cameron student section again and applauded them. "Crowd was great. Packed," he said in the press room shortly thereafter. That was the extent of his commentary on the matter. He had gotten what he wanted with his halftime outburst. Just two days ago, I opined that this year's whole Cameron Controversy was "way overblown." Watching Krzyzewski's crowd management yesterday, and picking back over his postgame commentary, it became evident that it's Krzyzewski, of course, who has done the most aggressive fanning of the flames.
Certainly Duke's home crowd has long played at least some role in Krzyzewski's run of excellence over the last three decades. There's no denying it, but it's not as if a frenzied partisanship is necessary to a successful team. Look no further than Chapel Hill, where the Tar Heels have thrived despite the Dean E. Smith Center's cavernous quiet and somnolent energy. It's possible that the obsession with the Crazies and their performance has not entirely to do with their function as a so-called "sixth man" for Krzyzewski's team, but also with his apparent drive to control more than just his on-court personnel. Looked at one way, it's preposterous to suppose that a coach should have any business dictating whether fans sit or stand, make noise or do not, any more than a theater director should be expected to cue audience laughter or applause. To do so almost seems—shockingly for a figure of such legendary greatness—a little insecure.
The ire Krzyzewski flung at the students yesterday may be attributable to a long-held mistrust of his fan base that goes back at least 20 years. The reason that the 1991 Final Four was "one of the biggest things that's happened to me in my career," as Krzyzewski put it, was that Duke prevailed over Kansas in the final "after our fans thought we had already won the national championship by beating Vegas." (If I recall correctly, he made a similar comment in Gene Wojciechowski's book about 1991-92-era Duke, The Last Great Game.)
It's a pointed comment in that it separates the team from the fans, implying as it does that the Duke faithful had reached a point of premature satisfaction after the team beat the Runnin' Rebels in the semifinal. Krzyzewski had to show them what "exceptional" really meant by willing his team above and beyond the transient, merely symbolic glory of having vanquished UNLV, and getting them to focus on besting Kansas two days later—no one remembers who finished second. Beating UNLV proved Duke's excellence to Duke; beating Kansas proved it to history.
Krzyzewski seems to view Duke fans not as natural allies but as something that, like his players, has to be coached, sometimes viciously, lest they corrupt and decay into an enemy. His comments yesterday about 1991 suggested that Duke won despite its alleged supporters, not because of them, and not for their sake; on the contrary, the fans are there for Krzyzewski's team's benefit, not the other way around. Screaming at the fans doesn't come from insecurity, probably, as much as it comes from the motivating motor of oppositional thinking: Krzyzewski recasts his peerless greatness as underdogma, applause as complacency and success as a threat.
The way to combat entropy, atrophy, apathy? Control. Early this season, I compared Krzyzewski to Prospero, Shakespeare's aggrieved Duke of Milan in The Tempest. Two thirds of a season confirm the assessment. Krzyzewski, like Prospero, tries to manipulate not only the plot—the game and its outcome—but also the totality of the environment in which that plot unfolds: The Tempest opens with the magic-wielding Prospero's fabricated storm at sea, which shipwrecks his enemies on his Bermudan island. Krzyzewski brews his own storm via the Cameron fans, trapping his opponents in a terrifying maelstrom before subjecting them to his scheme, which is carried out by his team of Ariels, who are temporarily indentured to his rule.
(In that light, it would not be at all surprising to learn that Duke's player-imposed hiatus from Twitter actually took its inspiration from Krzyzewski, either directly or, more probably, indirectly via insinuation. In any case, the Twitter issue occasioned yesterday's best laugh-line. Responding to a prompt about Austin Rivers, who had just given a young reporter a typically voluble answer to his questions—a volubility which the reporter relayed to Krzyzewski—the coach said: "Now that he can't tweet, he's probably gonna talk more.")
Perhaps that extensive and unyielding control is the only way to reach the "pinnacle of our profession," which is where Bill Self put Krzyzewski in an interview after Krzyzewski set the all-time wins record in NCAA Division I men's basketball. He got there by building not just the throne but the castle and the entire realm, too, where the whole populace, from his courtiers down to the anonymous masses who dare to sit down in the bleachers during the sluggish first half of a game against an unranked opponent, are his subjects—subject to his Iron Duke will, to his astounding magic (e.g., 85-84), and to his amassing of wealth and prestige and power on their behalf, in the form of 921 wins and counting. It's hard not to think that each one renews his resolve to never, ever sit down.
Duke takes on North Carolina State at Cameron on Thursday. The Wolfpack are a good team again, under new management in head coach Mark Gottfried—although their 18-7 record is a little hollow, and six of their seven ACC wins have come against three of the league's worst teams (Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest).
Still, you can be sure that Krzyzewski is already motivating his team for Thursday night's game. In preparation for Maryland, he got them pumped up with a success story against the Terrapins from Duke's 2010 national championship season. It wouldn't be a surprise if he went right back to the 2010 well, but deeper down and and darker. There is some pretty dirty water to draw on in anticipation of N.C. State's visit. Three weeks before the rise of Brian Zoubek against Maryland, Duke went to Raleigh and was whipped by the Wolfpack, 88-74, in one of those games where the other team seems to hit everything they throw at the basket (N.C. State shot 58.2 percent from the floor).
Brian Zoubek came off the bench that day. In just 14 minutes of action, he got nine rebounds and chipped in six points in a losing effort, inklings of what was to come on the way to glory in Indianapolis. Zoubek spelled the starting center, a promising but still unready sophomore who managed just three rebounds and zero points in a mere 10 minutes of disappointing playing time. His name was Miles Plumlee.