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Still the best: No. 5/4 Duke secures ACC regular season title by defeating No. 8 Maryland

The Blue Devils went into a hostile environment without Chelsea Gray and defeated the biggest threat to them in the ACC by 16 to win the conference's regular season title.

Duke got a key contribution from Richa Jackson early that helped hold off Maryland until the Blue Devils took control.
Duke got a key contribution from Richa Jackson early that helped hold off Maryland until the Blue Devils took control.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

After having some bold things to say on Twitter about the Maryland/Duke men's basketball game on Feb. 16, Blue Devil women's basketball head coach Joanne P. McCallie took the high road when addressing the media following her team's 75-59 win over Maryland on Sunday.

She said the win wasn't about proving doubters wrong - doubters who crept up because her star junior guard Chelsea Gray is out for the rest of the season with dislocated right kneecap and because the game was being played at Comcast Center in College Park, Md., where the Terps had been 12-0 coming in.

Because of these factors, it seemed plausible to think that, in front of a white out of 15,853 of their screaming fans, No. 8 Maryland would defeat or maybe even crush No. 5/4 Duke - like they did to avenge their loss to UNC - and symbolically take the reins from the Blue Devils as the best team in ACC.

Instead, Duke won by one more point than they did earlier this year against the Terps in Durham - a game in which Gray was present and had a career-high 28 points. The Blue Devils also won the ACC regular season title in the process by moving three games ahead of Maryland in ACC play with two games remaining for each. In other words, they slammed the door shut on a conference power shift, at least until the ACC tournament comes around.

But after the game McCallie didn't gloat, instead saying: "We're just trying to get better - we're just trying to grow as a team.

"We have an All-American point guard out for the season - I don't think you could find me a comparable example of losing a player like Chelsea Gray. You can imagine how teams would feel if they lost their very best player. And so I just think it's great that our team knows how they can play, and they want to step up and do what they do. That's what we do at Duke is just try to grow and get better. We don't pay attention to other people's thoughts."

After trading baskets with Maryland for the first six minutes of the game, a Richa Jackson bucket with exactly 14 minutes remaining in the first half put Duke up, 12-11. They would lead for the remainder of the contest. The key was a 21-6 run that started with Jackson's score and put the Blue Devils up, 31-17.

Duke led by at least eight for the rest of the game after that run, allowing Maryland to come within single digits twice. The second time came after a 9-0 Terp run led by six straight points from Alyssa Thomas and capped by a Katie Rutan three. The Comcast Center crowd came alive during that run, which cut into Duke's largest lead of the game (17) and made the score 54-46 with 7:45 remaining in the second.

But the Terps could not continue to string together stops down the stretch against a Blue Devil team that scored in a variety of ways and finished with four players in double figures. Elizabeth Williams led them with 16 and Alexis Jones, Haley Peters and Tricia Liston all had 15.

Duke had a characteristically good night shooting from long range, going 6 for 12. Meanwhile, Maryland couldn't follow up their great 3-point performance at BC as they shot a dreadful 3 for 18 from beyond the arc. Everybody in the nation is looking up to Duke when it comes to 3-point shooting, so this advantage for the Blue Devils was to be expected.

But the Terps probably would have liked to cancel that out by dominating the rebound margin, which is their most well-respected strength on a national level. In Sunday's game they out-rebounded the Blue Devils by just one, whereas they typically out-rebound their opponents by 15.

All in all, Duke played a good all-around game, which Maryland head coach Brenda Frese acknowledged postgame.

"I thought they came in here ready to play," Frese said of the Blue Devils. "I thought they shot the ball extremely well. Their physicality is hard to match on the glass and they did a really good job I thought of setting a tone early. I thought they did a terrific job sharing the basketball and making some really good plays."

Probably the player who stepped up the most for Duke was Jones, a freshman guard whose 15 points were a career high, as were her nine assists. She nearly had a triple-double, as she led the Blue Devils with eight rebounds as well.

"I've been really humble and just learning from the juniors," said Jones, who is carrying a lot of responsibility on her shoulders with Gray out. "Just trying to take my time, step by step and just learning from all the players I play with right now."

While Jones was the player of the game, both of Maryland's stars, Thomas and Tianna Hawkins had decent games. Both had streaky scoring stretches and both got into double digits in points, unlike the first meeting with Duke where Hawkins was held to just six. Tianna tied Williams for a game-high 16 points and also had a game-high nine boards on Sunday, but she still was not satisfied with her team's aggressiveness in the loss.

"We just have to fight," Hawkins said. "If they're going to be physical with us, we have to be physical back. We can't have the lapses that we had in this game, we have to give maximum effort the whole 40 minutes."

Thomas, on the other hand, logged her third 40-minute game of the season (one of the others came at Duke). She finished with 14 points, failing to dominate offensively the way she had in her career-high 30-point outing in the Terps' previous game at BC.

"You're not going to score 30 points every game," Thomas said. "[Duke] just really [was] physical and made it really difficult for us to get easy looks."

Maybe things will get easier for the ACC's best dynamic duo when the Terps (22-5, 13-3 ACC) travel to Tallahassee this coming Thursday for a date with the Seminoles at 7 p.m. Florida State is toward the bottom of the ACC (tied for eighth) in scoring defense. However, they have been ranked nationally for much of the season and possess the No. 1 offense in the conference. Not to mention they rallied to give Maryland a scare at Comcast back on Jan. 6.

Though they have some embarrassing loses, including one Sunday at Virginia Tech, Florida State is not bad and Maryland has to lock in if they want avoid their first losing streak of the season.

Meanwhile, Duke's only blemish remains their loss at UConn. Their next task will be facing Miami in Coral Gables on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. The Blue Devils (26-1, 16-0 ACC) also need to remain focused - there is still an ACC tournament to be won and Duke never got the chance to challenge Maryland head-to-head in that event last year because they slipped up unexpectedly in the quarterfinals.

But for now, the Blue Devils will enjoy the moment. They may have never stopped believing they could go deep in the tournament this year. But there is probably at least some sigh of relief after actually seeing themselves beat a quality team like Maryland on the road without their star guard.