DURHAM, N.C. -- When does a loss feel like a win?
When one of the Terps' starters doesn't even make the trip to the Triangle, yet they're four free throws from a victory? When Maryland loses a senior All-American to leg cramps when already trailing, and still rallies for a lead? When the Terps' other senior All-American doesn't hit a field goal until the second half, but still has every fan in Cameron Indoor Stadium holding his breath when her 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounces out.
No. 15 Maryland just missed out on upsetting 10th-ranked Duke on Monday, falling 68-65. But despite her Terps dropping to 1-1 in ACC play, coach Brenda Frese remained positive and upbeat afterward.
"We treat it like a win," Frese said. "We did a tremendous job in the second half in this environment."
The second was more exciting than the first, when both teams started cold. Duke's Abby Waner missed her first four shots of the game, and Maryland's Kristi Toliver (who missed the aforementioned 3 at the buzzer) went scoreless in the first 20 minutes. The Blue Devils, however, got a big boost from their bench, as Bridgette Mitchell and Krystal Thomas helped spark a 13-0 run with less than seven minutes to play in the half en route to a 40-29 Duke lead at the break.
But the tide turned coming out of the locker room, as Duke missed its first 11 shots of the second half. Maryland, which played without starter Marah Strickland, who remained in College Park with an illness, chipped away at the Blue Devils' lead to tie the score at 49 on a Toliver 3-pointer with 9:20 to play. Shortly after, however, Maryland's Marissa Coleman left the game for six minutes to nurse a calf cramp in her left leg.
Still, Maryland didn't relent. The Terps hit two more 3-pointers to cap a 12-2 run that spanned just two minutes, nine seconds to take a four-point lead, 55-51, with 7:46 left. The teams traded the lead five times in the final two minutes, taking the game to the wire. Jasmine Thomas, a 54 percent shooter at the free-throw line, nailed two foul shots with 7.7 seconds left for a 66-62 Duke advantage, and after Toliver's 3-pointer with two seconds to play pulled Maryland within one, Thomas hit another pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Coleman finished with 14 points and Toliver added 12, all in the second half. Lynetta Kizer added 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, who's averaging just 4.2 points, finished with nine, all of which came on 3-pointers in the second half.
"We extended our depth and gave ourselves a chance to win without two starters," Frese said. "In the long run, [this loss] is going to help us."
Duke could have turned Monday's game into a 20-point victory, but too many missed opportunities left the Blue Devils gutting out a three-point win. They shot just 25 percent in the second half, converted 26 offensive rebounds into only 15 second-chance points, and weathered Waner's 4-for-11 night and two-point performance in the second half -- and still won.
Joy Cheek (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Chante Black (13 points, 14 rebounds) each tallied double-doubles and helped Duke boast a plus-17 rebounding margin. But Jasmine Thomas was the player of the game, nailing the pivotal free throws, netting 15 points and really doing a nice defensive job on Toliver.
Toliver didn't hit her field goal until four minutes into the second half, but as her 3-pointer with two seconds left proved, she still has confidence and talent to hit big shots in the biggest moments. Nobody knows that better than Duke, which lost to Maryland in the 2006 NCAA title game after Toliver forced overtime by nailing a 3-pointer over 6-foot-7 Duke center Alison Bales.
Toliver's last-second 3-pointer Monday didn't go in, but when asked about it after the game by members of the media, it was clear Frese wasn't the only one feeling good.
"I guess it's a little too early in the season to break the Dukies' hearts," she said.
The two teams meet again Feb. 22 in College Park.
Beth Mowins is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.