CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- They wouldn't go away. They wouldn't exit from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quietly. The Maryland Terrapins didn't want to leave their season behind. So what if they were playing the No. 1 team in the country?
No matter how large Duke's lead would get yesterday at Charlotte Coliseum, Maryland somehow found a way to climb back. No matter how one player after another fell into foul trouble, the Terps found a way to hang on. No matter how much trouble Walt Williams had shooting, they wouldn't fold.
It didn't come down to the final seconds, as it did last month in Durham before the Blue Devils managed to escape with a two-point victory. But it did go into the final two minutes of the quarterfinal, before the tournament's top seed pulled away for a 94-87 victory.
"I think we probably played as hard as we could today," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terps finished the season with a 14-15 record. "I was pleased that we came out like we did and competed and we've done that all year. I'm really proud of my team. Today, I thought Duke made some great plays when they had to."
Christian Laettner and Brian Davis, the two seniors for the defending national champions, made most of them. Laettner finished with 33 points, 16 rebounds and five steals. Davis scored 17 points and helped force Williams, who played with a bruised shooting hand, into missing 20 of 29 shots.
Despite the problems Williams had shooting in his final college game, Maryland stayed close. Evers Burns got the Terps off to a fast start, made his first nine shots and wound up with a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds. Kevin McLinton finished with 17 points and eight assists. Vince Broadnax, like Williams playing in his final Terps game, added 12 points, six rebounds and five assists.
"I think we showed a lot of heart," said Williams, who scored 25 points, had seven rebounds and refused to use his swollen hand as an excuse. "Even though my shots weren't falling, some of the other fellas stepped up and played great. If my shot had been a-humming, it might have been a different story."
But Williams, who injured the hand early in the second half against Clemson on Thursday night and had it taped during yesterday's first half, passed the proverbial torch to Burns midway through the first half. He pulled the junior forward from Baltimore aside.
"Walt told me that it was my show because I had the hot hand," said Burns. "He told me to take over. I think that shows you what kind of person Walt is."
Said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: "Evers Burns was terrific. He played like a man -- better. He played great."
In the end, though, Burns cooled off, missing his last six shots. And in the end, Duke (26-2) was a bit too strong, deep and quick -- not to mention talented -- for Maryland to stop. The victory, their 11th straight over the Terps, put the Blue Devils into today's first semifinal against No. 4 seed Georgia Tech (21-10). The Yellow Jackets earlier defeated Virginia (15-13), 68-56.
"I thought we played well, but they played really well," said Krzyzewski, whose team overcame an early eight-point deficit to build a pair of 10-point leads, but could never shake the Terps. "Going in, I thought we could play like we did when we were healthy. I wanted us to play a running game. I thought we looked a little rusty. But on the other hand, Maryland pursued the ball well. They filled the lanes and sacrificed their bodies."
Even after the Blue Devils stretched their 49-44 halftime lead to 63-52, Maryland wouldn't back off. The Terps chipped their deficit down to six before Duke made another mini-run to bring it up to 10. Then things got interesting, as Maryland closed to within 68-65 on a tip-in by Williams.
Finally, after a pair of free throws by Bobby Hurley gave Duke an 85-78 lead with a little more than three minutes left, a three-pointer by Williams brought Maryland to within four with 2:49 remaining.
"We made some runs, we got it down to six or four, but they kept coming up with key shots and loose balls," said McLinton. "You've got to give Duke credit. They're not the No. 1 team in the country for nothing."
Said Gary Williams: "They made some great plays down the stretch. We couldn't seem to get a hold of the basketball a couple of times when it was loose and it cost us. You make mistakes against good teams and they make you pay."
In the second half, Maryland slowed down the game by fouling, but the Blue Devils recovered from an uncharacteristically erratic start to make their free throws. The Terps had to play a little softer defensively than they might have preferred, with McLinton, Burns and eventually Williams nursing four fouls.