CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM It may be Duke’s toughest assignment at home this season.

Duke guard Chelsea Gray

Tonight in an ESPN “Big Monday” game, the No. 5 Blue Devils (21-1, 11-0 ACC) will take on No. 7 Maryland (19-3, 10-1) in a must-win contest for first place in the conference.

And of course adding extra fuel to the fire is that Maryland, which for some reason considers Duke its biggest rival in the ACC, has announced its departure for the Big Ten (sic).

This one is competitive until the final media timeout, with Duke pulling away down the stretch for a 71-56 win.

Duke gets the early advantage and leads by 10 points twice in the first half, but is up only 31-28 at the break.
Maryland takes its only lead of the game at 44-42 on a Chloe Pavlech 3-pointer with 11:17 left before Chelsea Gray goes to work for Duke.

The junior guard scores the next seven points on a 3-pointer, two free throws and a layup to put Duke in control with 7:39 to go.

The knockout punch comes with 3:51 left, when Maryland coach Brenda Frese has had enough of something and draws two successive technical for an ejection.

Gray hits four straight free throws to make it 63-50.

Gray goes over the 1000-point mark on the night she scores her career high of 28. Tricia Liston adds 17, while Elizabeth Williams chips in 16 points and 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season.

Alyssa Thomas leads the Terps with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Katie Rutan chips in 14 points.

Duke shoots 37.1 percent from the floor to Maryland’s 34.4. The Terps pull down 41 rebounds to Duke’s 39, but commit 24 turnovers to Duke’s 16.

They said it …

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “It was just a great physical game, an excellent game to help prepare us for the NCAA Tournament and the way those games go. It was important to us to be physical and also to play against a physical team. I love the fact that Elizabeth led us in rebounding and was able to be really strong without getting into foul trouble. I loved seeing Tricia with six rebounds. And I loved to see Chelsea able to elevate her game the way she did and be able to do the things she was able to do on the floor given the attention she was drawing.”

Frese: “I’m proud of how our team fought tonight. But I’m disappointed. I don’t think the score is indicative in terms of how this team fought and how they played.”

Gray: “It felt good (scoring 28), but I still only had three assists and three rebounds so there is definitely —plenty of space to improve. During that run we started getting stops on defense and then converting on offense. We started executing and getting easy scores.”

Williams: “I just tried to keep posting inside the being aggressive. Things started to open up in the second half and I was finishing better. I also think the guards did a great job of getting me the ball.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke has a clear inside track to be the top seed in the ACC Tournament. And that the return match in College Park on Feb. 24 should be very interesting.

Stars of the game
1. Gray.
2. Williams.
3. Liston.

Play of the game

Liston’s layup on a drop-pass from Gray to make it 20-12 with 12:38 left in the half.


Duke: Won 6.
Maryland: Lost 1.

Tied 39-39.

Up next
Duke at Virginia Tech, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Maryland vs. Clemson, Thursday, 7 p.m.