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Top-Ranked Duke Tops Terps To Clinch ACC

Duke knows how to perform in front of a full house, even when most of the fans are rooting for the other team.

Lindsey Harding scored 20 of her career-high 29 points in the pivotal first half, and No. 1 Duke disappointed a spirited sellout crowd by defeating No. 6 Maryland 69-57 Sunday night to remain undefeated and clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.

The Blue Devils (28-0, 13-0) took control late in the first half and never trailed over the final 25 minutes in beating the defending national champions for the second time this season.

The crowd of 17,950 matched the largest single-game attendance in ACC history, set earlier this season when the Terrapins hosted North Carolina. The six largest crowds to see an ACC game have all been at Maryland, and the Terps have lost each one _ including four against Duke.

"We love playing in big games. We love playing in great environments," Blue Devils coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I can't say enough about my team and the way they handle themselves in these type of situations."

Duke led by as many as 13 points in the second half. After Maryland (25-4, 9-4) got within seven, the Blue Devils kept the Terrapins scoreless for nearly 4 minutes.

Maryland then closed to 55-48 before Harding and Alison Bales made successive baskets for an 11-point cushion with 5:54 to go.

Harding went 9-for-10 from the floor in the first half and finished 12-for-20. Her previous career high was 28, set in the Blue Devils' 81-62 win over Maryland last month.

"I'll tell ya, if Lindsey Harding isn't player of the year, I'd like to know who is," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "She has stepped up big in every big game against any opponent they've played. She's on a mission. I just want to make sure the NCAA doesn't give her another year of eligibility because she is phenomenal."

Carrem Gay scored 14 points for the Blue Devils, and Bales had 12 points and 12 rebounds. But Harding was clearly the star.

"Once again Lindsey showed she's one of the best, if not the best, players in the country," Goestenkors said. "She does whatever it is that we need for her to do to be successful. Tonight in the first half we needed her to score, and she did a great job."

In explaining her success against Maryland, Harding said, "I'm just attacking the basket. I know this year I have to step up more offensively. In some of the other games, the whole team has gotten involved, but I know in big games I really do want to set the tone."

Crystal Langhorne had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Terrapins, and Marissa Coleman had 12 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. The 57 points were the fewest Maryland has scored this season; the previous low came in the first game against the Blue Devils.

The Terrapins shot 33 percent after halftime and finished 3-for-16 from 3-point range.

"We take great pride in our defense," Goestenkors said.

Up 35-29 at the break, the Blue Devils extended their lead to 46-34 with an 8-2 run that included five points from Bales and a three-point play by Harding. It was 50-37 when a three-point play by Langhorne started a 9-3 spree that got the Terrapins to 53-46.

All this happened without Gay, who picked up her fourth foul with 17:33 left.

Maryland seniors Shay Doron and Aurelie Noirez were honored before their final home game. Doron was in the starting lineup, as usual, and Frese marked the occasion by giving the seldom-used Noirez her first start of the season.

Noirez opened the scoring by sinking a soft jumper from just beyond the foul line for her only points of the game. Doron finished with four points.

Harding accounted for Duke's first 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting before teammate Wanisha Smith hit a 3-pointer for a 14-12 lead. Maryland quickly tied it before Harding sank a 3-pointer to put the Blue Devils back in front.

Harding missed her first shot wih 6:26 left in the half, but Gay got the rebound and made a short jumper to spark a 10-2 spurt that put Duke up 31-23.