DURHAM – The ball jumped. It danced. It hung as if in deliberation.
Then, it fell out.
A dream ending went with it.
And then circumstance sunk in as chants of “A-C-C!” rained down from the Duke faithful.
Maryland’s final trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference was a game fit to finish seven decades of conference battles, with last-minute bedlam and a nervy final possession for Maryland, which was down one with the ball and 21 seconds to play. Charles Mitchell’s hook shot with two seconds to go hit the front of the rim, the back iron and hung on the front of the rim before dropping on the wrong side of the hoop for the Terrapins, who lost, 69-67, on Saturday.
Mitchell, devastated, collapsed to the floor after the missed attempt, a failed chance to stick No. 8 Duke with a crushing loss in the finale.
“I thought it was in,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “I don’t know if you ever deserve to win, but I felt like our kids deserved better than what they got at the end.”
Maryland (14-12, 6-7 ACC), which will jump to the Big Ten after this season, looked to be in trouble after Mitchell was called for his fourth foul with 16:07 remaining, but the Terrapins were able to hang around and even take their first lead nearly eight minutes later, all with Mitchell on the bench.
That was when the game became hotly contested, with seven ties and six lead changes in the final nine minutes.
As part of a 17-point, six-rebound effort, Dez Wells hit a tie-breaking three with 2:45 to go to give Maryland a 67-64 lead.
Rodney Hood drew a foul and hit both free throws on Duke’s next possession, then after a stop, Jabari Parker took the ball on the left wing with the shot clock winding down, cut through traffic and threw down a one-handed dunk over a Maryland defender.
Parker grabbed a tough rebound after Maryland was stalled on its next possession, but Duke (20-5, 9-3) turned over the ball on a shot-clock violation, setting up the Terrapins with a chance to win the game on the final possession.
“It definitely felt like March in there,” said Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who scored 11 points. “Every possession was intense. It was one of those games where, if you make a mistake on any possession, that could cost you the game.”
With the shot clock turned off, Maryland entered the ball in the post to Mitchell, who was swatted out of bounds by Parker. On the inbound pass, Mitchell received the ball again – with a mismatch on Hood – but his shot, despite the theatrics, didn’t fall.
“It seemed like an eternity,” Parker said of Mitchell’s shot. “It was real close, but it was just something that went our way that time.”
The ball was batted out toward the three-point line following the miss. A scrum worthy of a playoffs hockey game broke out, but Duke’s Amile Jefferson came up with the ball, sealing Duke’s 30th consecutive home victory.
“The will to win showed so brilliantly in those exchanges,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Parker led Duke with 23 points, his fifteenth game this season in which he scored 20 or more points. Jefferson had 12 rebounds.
Jake Layman led Maryland with 18 points.
Even though Duke shot 23 percent in the second half and a season-low 20 percent from behind the arc, Krzyzewski said the game’s heart was a worthy finish to the ACC series.
“I’ve said all along, they’re part of the ACC,” Krzyzewski said. “... I don’t know what price, what (Maryland’s move) is worth. But it won’t be replicated.”
Maryland potentially could return to Cameron next season in the ACC-Big Ten challenge or in a non-conference game, but Duke’s players said it won’t be the same.
With one final shot at their longtime conference foe, the Blue Devils said the game had extra incentive, that it went beyond simply being a regular season conference game in mid- February.
“You just look at the past, Duke-Maryland has had some tremendous games. Everybody that’s ever been a part of the Duke program wanted to play in this and wanted to win,” Sulaimon said. “This wasn’t only a great win for our team this year. It was a great win for our program.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or firstname.lastname@example.org