GREENSBORO, N.C. — Maryland was on the NCAA tournament bubble just a few shorts weeks ago. An improbable run through the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament changed all that.
The upstart Terrapins blew through the ACC postseason, knocking off the top three seeds and earning their first tournament title in 20 years Sunday with a 95-87 overtime win against No. 5 Duke.
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Maryland (19-11) earned an automatic bid into the tournament with the win, proving how far it has come since sitting on a 5-9 ACC record two weeks ago. But the Terps head into the NCAA on a five-game winning streak that ended Duke's domination of the conference tournament.
"We spent time every day talking about how we were getting better," coach Gary Williams said. "It didn't always show because of the teams we were playing in this league. You don't always get the reward of winning all the time."
Especially in the ACC tournament, where so many great Maryland teams had come up empty. It had been 20 years since the Terps last won the title, and there had been just one appearance in the finals since, a 2000 loss to Duke.
"We want the wins; we want to win this championship for Maryland," said Williams, who ranked the victory alongside the Terps' 2002 national championship. "This kind of makes up for a lot of things that happened to us in the ACC tournament."
Duke (27-5) came into the tournament looking for its record sixth consecutive title and 15th overall.
Instead, the Blue Devils took their first ACC postseason loss since 1998 -- snapping a streak of 17 straight wins.
The loss did not cost the Blue Devils a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Duke received a top seed for the sixth time in seven years and will face Alabama State on Thursday in Raleigh.
Still, coach Mike Krzyzewski admitted another ACC crown would have been nice.
"Our program gives everything it can to this championship," he said. "We were proud to be the champions for the last five years, and we would have been proud to be the sixth."
Maryland had tournament MVP John Gilchrist to thank for ending Duke's run.
The sophomore guard put together a terrific three-game stretchto help the Terps secure the automatic NCAA bid.
Gilchrist made the game-winning free throw in a quarterfinal win over No. 15 Wake Forest, he scored a career-high 30 points in a semifinal win over North Carolina State and capped it with 26 points against Duke on 10-of-20 shooting.
His driving layup with 20 seconds to play in regulation drew the fifth foul on Duke's Shelden Williams -- his main competition for tournament MVP -- and the ensuing free throw tied the game at 77 and ensured overtime.
"I've been fortunate to be on winning teams my whole life, and that's given me a feeling of what teams need to win from the top guy to the bottom guy," he said. "I just know what you have to do to win these kind of games."
Maryland, which led by as many as 11 points in the first half and trailed by 12 late in the second, closed out regulation with a 15-3 run to force overtime.
The comeback was not as thrilling as the day before, when the Terps overcame a 19-point halftime deficit to beat N.C. State. But it did not surprise Krzyzewski.
"My hat is off to Gary and his program," Krzyzewski said. "He's a fighter, and his teams won't quit. They played like their coach, and as a result, they were all rewarded."