Maryland had one more opportunity Friday night to get it right, one precious chance -- in a meaningful game in March -- to finally claim a memorable win against a ranked team while retaining a shred of hope of securing an NCAA tournament berth.
After having gone 0-6 against Top 25 teams, the Terps fell, 87-71, to No. 5 Duke in perhaps the costliest loss of all because it ended their ambitious goal of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament as a seventh seed and claiming the conference's automatic NCAA bid.
It was a rough, contentious, quarterfinal played in front of a heavily pro-Duke crowd. There were ample fouls -- Maryland's Sean Mosley fouled out, and four other players had four fouls -- and multiple players crashing to the floor. Nolan Smith, Duke's leading scorer, limped to the bench with Duke leading 65-60 and did not return. Moments earlier, Maryland appeared to argue for a goaltending call on Cliff Tucker's drive to the basket. Smith had a toe injury, and his immediate status was uncertain.
"I think we had a strong sense going into the game that we could win the game," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "It really hurts to lose that game. I thought we were in pretty good shape with about 10 minutes left."
The Terps trailed by as many as nine points in the first half. Maryland used an 8-0 run in the second half to come within 47-46, and the Terps continued to stay close.
But a bank shot by Kyle Singler -- who had been in a shooting slump but has repeatedly hurt Maryland -- extended Duke's lead to 65-60. The lead quickly became 70-60 on five straight points by Seth Curry.
"We missed a couple shots we could make," Williams said. "We took a couple bad shots. When they feel weakness, when they sense something from the other team, they pounce on it."
Singler led Duke with 29 points. Jordan Williams had 16 for the Terps to go with 16 rebounds but struggled from the foul line, shooting 2-for-10.
"I missed eight free throws. That's unacceptable," the sophomore said.
All season, the Terps (19-14) have seemed frustrated that they couldn't win a game against a ranked team. Four of the losses were by single digits.
Duke next meets Virginia Tech, a 52-51 winner over Florida State, in the semifinals at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Maryland will await Sunday night's announcement of the National Invitation Tournament pairings. The Terps played in the NIT in 2005, 2006 and 2008. They had advanced to the NCAA tournament's second round in each of the past two years.
"We've still got games to play," said Maryland guard Pe'Shon Howard (10 points). "We have to make the most of it for our seniors. I don't want to send them out like this."
The Terps had less than 24 hours' turnaround time from stepping off the Greensboro Coliseum court after beating North Carolina State on Thursday night. Players coped by calling on adrenalin, ice baths and as much rest as they could muster.
Gary Williams said he could not fault Maryland's effort. The Terps played rugged defense but were hurt by Duke's size and frontcourt depth.
"What did we have, 16 offensive rebounds?" Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski asked. "Miles [Plumlee] was a key guy tonight." Plumlee had eight of Duke's offensive boards.
It was Maryland's third game of the season against Duke (28-4). The Terps had hoped to resemble the team that held the Blue Devils to 40.3 percent in losing, 71-64, at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 9. In that game, Maryland held Smith -- who has four 30-point games this season -- to 5-for-18 shooting. Duke beat the Terps, 80-62, in the rematch Feb. 2.
Duke shot 49.2 percent Friday night, but Smith managed just seven points on 2-for-11 shooting before exiting.
The Blue Devils entered Friday night having won 45 of 50 games. But they had lost two of their previous three (Virginia Tech, North Carolina) and had shot 4-for-20 from 3-point range against the Hokies.
Of particular concern to Duke was Singler. The versatile, 6-foot-8 forward was shooting 14-for-45 (31.1 percent) in his past three games, and Duke was eager to get him more comfortable. Singler has had no such problems against the Terps. He combined for 47 points on 20-for-34 shooting (59 percent) in the previous two Maryland games.
On Friday night, Singler made all five of his field-goal attempts in the first half. But he was 0-for-4 on 3-point tries in the game. "I'm not going to worry about that," he said.
Duke took a 42-33 at the half despite only two points from Smith. Ryan Kelly was also 5-for-5 in the first half, posing a matchup problem because of his size (6-11) and shooting range.
The Terps shot 0-for-6 from the free-throw line in the half and got no points from starting guards Terrell Stoglin and Adrian Bowie.
Stoglin, a freshman, finished with six points on 2-for-10 shooting. "Personally, I feel if I could have given more, we could have won," he said.