The moments have been rare, fleeting even, this season when Duke would choose to play defense rather than offense.
Yet there the No. 8 Blue Devils were Saturday with 21 seconds left in an ACC game against Maryland.
An officials’ review would determine who would have the ball with Duke up by one point.
“Coach said that whether it was our ball or not, let’s get our mind set for defense,” Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “Everybody got excited. It shows how our team is starting to grow and mature.”
Maryland got the ball and a chance to pull an upset. But Duke unleashed a defensive stand with its mind, body, soul and a bit of luck.
With 6.4 seconds left, Duke’s Jabari Parker blocked Charles Mitchell’s layup attempt out of bounds.
With three seconds left, after an in-bounds pass, Mitchell had the ball in the lane and launched a short, soft jumper. The ball hung on the rim before tantalizingly falling off and Duke escaped with a nail-biting 69-67 win.
Only then, after allowing the Blue Devils to survive one of their worst shooting games of the season, could Duke’s defense rest.
“We won on defense on the last play,” Duke forward Amile Jefferson said. “That’s how Duke players win and that’s how we protect our home.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski oozed with pride over what he called a “gutty” win for the Blue Devils (20-5, 9-3 in ACC) “Our effort, those last 20 seconds, was spectacular,” Krzyzewski said.
There was Parker’s initial blocked shot, of course. There was also Rodney Hood, playing with four fouls, who stayed close enough to Mitchell to bother the shot ever so slightly.
Then there was 6-1 senior guard Tyler Thornton, who was under the basket on the play. He tipped the rebound out to Jefferson, who grabbed it with 1.1 seconds left, drew a foul and hit a free throw.
“Rodney did a great job standing his ground and contesting the shot,” Jefferson said. “One of the biggest plays of the game that people probably won’t even talk about was that Tyler tipped that ball out to me. I didn’t go in for the rebound. He tipped it out. It was an amazing play.”
The Terrapins (14-12, 6-7), playing their final ACC game at Duke — and in the Triangle — before departing for the Big 10 this July, rallied from a nine-point, second-half deficit to take a 67-64 lead when Dez Wells drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:40 to play.
Hood sank two free throws for Duke with 2:11 left, slicing the Terrapin lead to 67-66, and the Blue Devils didn’t let Maryland score again.
On the Terrapins’ ensuing possession, Jefferson knocked the ball loose from Wells as he started to move toward the basket near the 3-point line. The ball bounced around in the lane and Jefferson wound up with the steal with 1:38 to play.
After a timeout, on a day when the Blue Devils shot just 33 percent and hit only 5 of 24 3-pointers for a season-low 20.8 percent, they got one of their few amazing plays on offense.
With around 80 seconds left, Parker had the ball near the 3-point line and thought about launching a jump shot. But a crease to the basket opened up and he charged into the lane, leaped and slammed home a basket with 1:17 left to put Duke up 68-67.
The charged-up crowd at Cameron erupted in its loudest cheer of the day.
“They weren’t expecting me to drive,” said Parker, who led Duke with 23 points. “But I saw the lane. I think Amile went strong side to my side and I was able to go to the middle. I just had to finish up strong.”
Hood’s tight defense on the other end caused Wells to miss a jumper with 59 seconds left giving Duke the ball with the lead.
After using nearly all of the 35-second shot clock, Duke got the ball into Jefferson, whose bank shot failed to draw iron. Jefferson got the rebound and called time.
But during the break, the officials determined that Duke had committed a shot-clock violation.
The Blue Devils had to go play defense. But, on this day, that was fine with them and they told Krzyzewski just that during the time out with 21 seconds left.
“Coach, we said it was going to be about defense, let’s play defense,” Krzyzewski said the players told him. “It was all the guys saying that. They took ownership of that last possession and that’s a beautiful thing when that happens.”
No. 8 DUKE 69, MARYLAND 67
Percentages: FG .419, FT .632.
3-Point Goals: 3-14, .214 (Layman 2-4, Wells 1-2, Faust 0-2, Allen 0-3, Smotrycz 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 5.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Allen, Faust).
Turnovers: 14 (Wells 4, Layman 3, Allen 3, Faust 2, Graham, Cleare).
Steals: 4 (Smotrycz, Layman, Allen, Faust).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .333, FT .824.
3-Point Goals: 5-24, .208 (Parker 2-6, Dawkins 1-4, Sulaimon 1-4, Hood 1-4, Cook 0-2, Thornton 0-4).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Parker 2, Jefferson).
Turnovers: 11 (Cook 3, Parker 2, Sulaimon 2, Thornton, Hood, Dawkins).
Steals: 10 (Cook 2, Thornton 2, Hood, Sulaimon, Jefferson, Parker, Dawkins, Plumlee).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Les Jones, Brian Dorsey, Jerry Heater.