COLLEGE PARK -- In the midst of a four-game losing streak, awaiting its first trip to Tobacco Road, here is a positive thought for the University of Maryland basketball team to ponder:
The Terrapins will likely have to play Duke only one more time this season.
Maryland's biggest game of the season to date turned into a big disappointment for the Terps and a sellout crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House. Behind 25 points from junior guard Thomas Hill, the nation's No. 1 team won easily, 83-66.
The defeat was the fourth straight overall and the second straight in the Atlantic Coast Conference for Maryland (7-5, 0-2), which now must try to solve its problems while on the road. The Terps play at North Carolina State on Saturday and at North Carolina on Monday.
"We have to play better against teams of that caliber," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "Until somebody proves different, they are the best team. If we want to compete with that type of team, we have to have longer periods of time where we play well."
The Terps played well in spurts, but they usually came after the Blue Devils had taken huge leads. After cutting an early 27-11 deficit to 37-28, Maryland trailed at halftime, 41-28. Duke (9-0, 3-0) then ran off the first 10 points of the second half, and led by as many as 23 on three other occasions. The closest the Terps got was 14.
Said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: "This was a really good effort by us tonight. It takes a number of persons doing a really good job to beat Maryland at home. We're a better team than they are, and we played well tonight."
Maryland started off the game in a zone on defense and a daze on offense. While the defense sagged in around center Christian Laettner and tried to prevent point guard Bobby Hurley from penetrating, Duke bombed away from the outside. The Blue Devils made 12 of their first 16 shots, nearly all of them from the perimeter.
"We took what the defense gave us. The shots were there, and I was open," said Hill, who made six of seven from the field in the first half, nine of 16 for the game and came within a point of equaling his career high. "It was just a matter of confidence. We were struggling a little with our outside shots, but tonight we made them."
Said Krzyzewski of Maryland's zone: "Based on our last two games, I wasn't surprised by it. But we're a pretty good outside shooting team, not a great outside shooting team, and we showed that."
Maryland is a poor outside shooting team -- a poor shooting team, period -- and the Terps demonstrated that again last night. After two straight games under 40 percent, Maryland barely climbed over that meager mark, shooting 11 of 28 in the first half and 25 of 62 for the night.
"We dug ourselves a big hole, they hit some great shots, and we could never recuperate," said Walt Williams. "I turned the ball over in a lot of key situations."
Not that there were that many crucial sequences. The only thing that prevented it from being a complete blowout was that the Blue Devils lost both players and interest. Hurley fouled out with more than 6 1/2 minutes left, and senior forward Brian Davis departed seconds later.
Duke, normally one of the top free throw-shooting teams in the country, was 17 of 32 last night, including 10 of 22 in the second half. The Blue Devils also committed 19 turnovers, many of them coming after building a 73-50 lead with a little less than eight minutes left.
"In one stretch, we blew six layups in a row and then we started missing free throws," said Hurley, who had only nine points. "It got contagious. We had great intensity and emotion early in the game, but when we got up by 22 or 23, we started getting sloppy."
Walt Williams, who fouled out for Maryland with five minutes to go after scoring a team-high 25 points, had a sloppy night throughout. The senior guard committed a career-high 11 turnovers and failed to get an assist for only the fifth time in his career.
Williams wasn't alone. Maryland continued in its collective shooting slump. The Terps were 11 of 28 in the first half and 25 of 62 for the night, including four of 16 by Garfield Smith. Evers Burns, who had 11 straight games in double figures, disappeared last night, finishing with six points and three rebounds.
"We succumbed to the pressure from all sides," said Smith.
About the only good news for the Terps was that junior guard Kevin McLinton came out of his recent slump, finishing with 19 points on seven-of-14 shooting. McLinton helped give Maryland's stand-around offense some movement, and took some of the scoring load off Williams.
It doesn't get any easier for Maryland. Though N.C. State is a bit down this year, Reynolds Coliseum has never been an easy place for the Terps to play. Then come the eighth-ranked Tar Heels. Maryland returns home a week from Saturday against Florida State.
"We're in a very tough stretch," said Gary Williams, whose team was coming off a 25-point defeat at Georgia Tech. "We just have to maintain our confidence in that we can get better. We just have to play well at one time for 40 minutes -- that will really help us a lot."