Miller's foot helps Duke give Terps boot, 81-68

Forward's sprained ankle alters matchups, Devils pull away in ACC final

March 13, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Danny Miller might be Maryland's fifth wheel, but the Terps discovered yesterday that they don't run well without him.

The sophomore forward was the only starter from No. 20 Maryland who wasn't recognized on the All-Atlantic Coast Conference teams, but a more significant absence of Miller doomed the Terps in the league's tournament championship game, where they lost to soon-to-be No. 1 Duke, 81-68, at the Charlotte Coliseum.

Miller sprained his left ankle in the first half and played only nine minutes. The first disruption to Maryland's rotation since January was in contrast to Duke, which saw freshman reserve Mike Dunleavy's speedy recovery from mononucleosis give the Blue Devils six of the 10 all-tournament selections.

"Obviously, when you lose a guy who averages 33 [actually 31.7] minutes a game, it affects you," coach Gary Williams said of Miller. "I think we stopped executing well at a certain point. We struggled a little bit with our rotation, getting the right people in the right spots."

That's an understatement.

The Terps (24-9) tried a three-guard lineup, as freshman Drew Nicholas started the second half in Miller's place. They went big, as Terence Morris moved to the small forward spot when Tahj Holden came in, but Maryland's rhythm sputtered, a no-no against No. 3 Duke (27-4).

Every meeting between the two programs this season was a historic occasion.

It was Maryland's first ACC tournament title game since 1984. Last month the Terps beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, coach Mike Krzyzewski's only loss to a conference foe in the past two years. The last team to sweep the regular-season and tournament titles in consecutive years was N.C. State in 1973 and '74.

That David Thompson juggernaut subdued Maryland's best teams ever, and the Terps again have to satisfy themselves with runner-up status. Unlike Len Elmore and company, this Maryland team gets to keep playing in the NCAA tournament, as it will be the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region.

The nation's only conference tournament final to match the top two seeds didn't turn Duke's way until the second half, when three games in as many days and some uncomfortable matchups dragged down the Terps. Morris had to check Chris Carrawell and Juan Dixon gave up four inches to Dunleavy, but Duke's biggest edge came at the point.

Steve Blake had limited Jason Williams to 15 points in the regular-season split, but the Blue Devil won Round 3 in the battle of two of the nation's premier freshman point guards. Williams scored 15 of his season-high 23 points in the second half, when he made three of four three-pointers and Maryland's displaced big men did not help Blake stop his dribble penetration.

The tournament Most Valuable Player also defended Dixon in the second half, when the sophomore finally cooled off with the rest of his teammates.

"I thought his [Williams'] defense was outstanding," Krzyzewski said, "and his ability to get into the seams of their defense really opened things up."

Center Lonny Baxter drew his second foul less than two minutes after Miller limped off with an injury that won't keep him out of the NCAA tournament. Holden, Nicholas and Mike Mardesich all turned in some yeoman minutes, however, and the Terps turned a 25-13 hole into a less-daunting 37-36 deficit at the break.

Blake missed a transition chance to tie in the first minute of the second half, and it was a portent of things to come for Maryland, which made 33.3 percent (13-for-39) of its shots in the second half.

The Terps' most frustrating possession of the season came two minutes later. Nicholas missed a three-pointer, but Maryland got the rebound to Blake, whose jumper from the right baseline precipitated a furious fight for the ball. Baxter missed two follow attempts, and Morris' tap seemed in the cylinder before it came out.

Carlos Boozer, another of Duke's stellar freshmen, finally controlled the rebound for Duke, and All-ACC forward Shane Battier knocked down an open three from the top of the key. It padded the lead to 48-40 and deflated Maryland, which never got closer than two possessions.

The Terps screamed foul, or, more precisely, where is the foul? Maryland attempted two free throws in the first 38 minutes, and it was outscored 18-6 at the line.

Asked if his team took too many jump shots, Williams said: "No, we would have liked to take more free throws."

The Terps had two blocks (both by Baxter), their second-lowest total of the season, as Duke owned the paint as well as the perimeter in the second half.

"We thought we would win this game, no doubt," said Morris, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds, but did not score in the last eight minutes. "We had to play with the same intensity we had when we beat them at their place. Sometimes, we didn't have it, sometimes we did. That's what cost us."

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