Time to reflect lets clocked Terps regroup

`It's hard to explain' blowing 10-point lead with minute remaining

OT loss to Duke a stunner

College Basketball

January 29, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - It might have been the most devastating minute during the 12 seasons Gary Williams has coached at Maryland.

Duke needed an overtime period to deal the Terps a shocking, 98-96 defeat on Saturday night. But the observers who looked on in stunned amazement at packed Cole Field House will not forget the vision of Maryland's blowing the 90-80 lead it had earned with 1:01 left in regulation against the nation's second-ranked men's basketball team.

Byron Mouton, Maryland's redshirt junior forward, still can't believe what he witnessed.

"I can't explain how one minute, we're up by 10 or 12, and the next minute, we're in overtime," said Mouton, who gave the Terps an inspired effort by grabbing a career-high 12 rebounds to go with his 13 points.

"That last minute [of regulation] determined the whole outcome. It's hard to explain how you can lose a game like that."

The eighth-ranked Terps failed to close the deal for a number of reasons, which add up to a lack of composure not befitting a team thinking it is made of national championship material.

The Terps committed four turnovers in the final three minutes of regulation, before adding three more miscues in overtime. They inexplicably put the Blue Devils on the foul line 13 times in the final three minutes of regulation, which is a senseless way to protect a double-digit lead.

Maryland played scared when it should have been giving Duke one final slap, after running by the Blue Devils offensively and harassing them defensively for much of the evening. The Terps led by as many as 15 points in the first half, and never let Duke get closer than seven.

Before that fateful minute, that is.

Dixon committed two costly turnovers late in regulation and had the ball only enough to make two trips to the free-throw line during that infamous minute. Dixon has missed only one attempt in his last 58 and has made a school-record 37 in a row.

Instead, the Terps wilted with backup point guard Drew Nicholas on the line. Nicholas, who replaced the fouled-out Steve Blake and had been brilliant during earlier stretches on Saturday, went to the line six times in the final 1:43 and missed three shots. His back-to-back misses with 48 seconds left barely touched the rim and left the Terps hanging onto a 90-85 lead that was evaporating fast.

Nicholas, who also committed a key foul and turnover in the final two minutes of regulation, then missed a game-winning, three-point attempt from the left corner as time expired in regulation.

By that point, Duke point guard Jason Williams (25 points, 10 turnovers), who looked so ordinary for much of the game, had fueled the Blue Devils' 10-0 spurt with a pair of three-pointers - largely because Nicholas could not contain him after Blake had.

Williams' second, a fast-break three-pointer that followed Nicholas' misses, cut Maryland's lead to 90-88 with 40 seconds left. The inbounds pass was then taken from Dixon by Nate James, who rebounded a three-point miss by Mike Dunleavy, got fouled by Mouton, and made both attempts to force the extra period.

"If one little thing had gone differently, we wouldn't be talking about this," said senior center Mike Mardesich.

"There's a bunch of stuff that went wrong," added sophomore forward Tahj Holden, who was outstanding with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists, on a night when Terence Morris (13 points) and Lonny Baxter (seven points) fought foul trouble and never found rhythm.

"We kept fouling them, stopping the clock and putting them on the free-throw line," Holden added. "A team like Duke doesn't just go away. They didn't want to lose. They showed a lot of heart."

The Blue Devils also got their share of calls, and the Terps, careful not to criticize the officiating crew publicly, were furious about it.

Maryland seemed to have a valid point. Baxter got whistled for a suspicious charging call against Duke's Shane Battier early, putting him on the bench with two fouls. Morris also sat for a lengthy first-half stretch after an interesting touch foul sent him to the bench.

Television replays showed Holden never touched Battier on a three-point attempt with 2:58 left. Battier made one of three foul shots to cut Maryland's lead to 82-72. Then, Blake "fouled" Williams with 1:51 left, enabling Williams to make two free throws and trim the margin to 84-75.

Blake and Morris eventually fouled out. Duke, which had all five starters play at least 34 minutes in a physical contest, did not lose a player and shot 14 more free throws than the Terps.

"I can't comment on the officiating. It's a league rule," Gary Williams said. "We needed to play a perfect game, and we didn't."

There were early signs that Saturday would be a strange night. Play was stopped for about two minutes late in the first with Maryland up 44-29 after a balloon drifted low over the court. The Blue Devils then needed only 1.4 seconds to turn a 75-foot pass from Dunleavy to Williams, whose layup cut Maryland's halftime lead to 46-37.

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