2nd half topples Terps

UM loses title bid despite 22-point lead against rival Duke

`Today it really hurts'

Battier, Williams carry Blue Devils with clutch shots

April 01, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - Maryland and Duke showed the country last night why their rivalry was the most competitive and compelling in college basketball this season.

Unfortunately for the Terrapins, the Blue Devils also demonstrated why they have been so successful in the Final Four.

Maryland shocked Duke by taking a 22-point lead in the first 11 minutes, only to watch its Atlantic Coast Conference opponent and longtime nemesis storm back amid a flurry of clutch shots and questionable calls that resulted in a 95-84 victory for the Blue Devils.

The Terrapins didn't look like a team making its first appearance in the men's NCAA tournament semifinals in school history. Yet in the end, it might have been the difference in pedigree and reputation that proved vital in the way the game was officiated and, eventually, in its outcome.

The victory put Duke into tomorrow night's national championship game against Arizona, which earlier defeated defending champion Michigan State, 80-61. It will be the second final in the past three years for the Blue Devils. The defeat ended a remarkable ride and a roller-coaster season for Maryland.

"Today it really hurts, but give Duke the credit for coming back," Maryland coach Gary Williams said after his team's third loss in four games against the Blue Devils this season. "But I think our team proved something to the university and the state of where we can be as a program and we can go from here."

It was the sixth straight victory in the national semifinals for the Blue Devils, who won back-to-back titles under coach Mike Krzyzewski in 1991 and 1992. Their second championship took place here at the Metrodome.

"We've won a lot of games like this, not being behind, but by making big plays," said Krzyzewski, whose team's comeback is believed to be the largest in a Final Four game in recent history. "We're going to need that Monday, because Arizona is a great basketball team coached by a great coach."

The semifinal was, even in defeat, a major step forward for a Maryland program left for dead a decade before beginning its remarkable ascent among the sport's elite in this year's tournament. It was, considering the slump that followed the first loss to Duke this season, a remarkable come-from-behind season for the Terrapins as well.

"A lot of people didn't even think we'd get into the tournament at one time, but we got ourselves together," said senior forward Terence Morris, who finished his own up-and-down career with a foul-hampered performance.

The message Williams gave to his players before leaving College Park last week was simple: Act as if you belong. For all but a few minutes, the Terrapins listened to their coach.

They dominated the Blue Devils to take a 39-17 lead. They withstood one comeback after another before foul trouble, forced shots and turnovers led to Maryland's defeat for the third time in the four games against Duke.

Duke All-Americans Shane Battier and Jason Williams took control of the game in its final, frantic minutes. Both started slowly but finished strong, with Battier scoring a game-high 25 points and Williams scoring 23.

Juan Dixon led Maryland with 19 points, but scored just three in the second half. Though the final score might not have been indicative of how competitive a game it was, last night's game was just a continuation of the first three played between the teams in College Park, Durham, N.C., and Atlanta this season.

In each game, the team that wound up winning climbed from a deep hole.

"The team that won each game was behind double digits," said Battier. "That was in the back of my mind when we were down 20."

Maryland's long-suffering fans came in droves last night to the Metrodome to watch their beloved Terrapins.

For Ron Jolles, a Washington construction lawyer, it was a particularly emotional experience. Both his parents had graduated from Maryland - "I was probably conceived in Lot 4," he said - and his father, Sam, was buried last February wearing a Terrapin hat.

The son, a 1982 graduate, brought to the game whatever ashes of his father's remains that hadn't been scattered over a golf course in Potomac.

"We've been waiting for this for the past 32 years since Lefty [Driesell, the former coach] called us the `UCLA of the East,' " said Jolles. "Now, all of a sudden, it's us."

Tom Young, who played on the 1958 team that won Maryland's first ACC tournament championship and later served as an assistant coach under Frank Fellows in the late 1960s, took Rutgers to the Final Four a quarter-century ago. Unfortunately, his team had to play Indiana, the last team to finish a season unbeaten, in the semifinals.

"Back then, it was still 50 times what you were used to," recalled Young, who has long been a mentor of Gary Williams' and was brought here by the Maryland coach. "It's probably 100 times what it was then."

For Maryland, it was 100 times as painful, particularly when the Terrapins were one victory from playing for the national championship.

Losing to Duke only made it worse. But out of the gloom of another loss to the Blue Devils came one thought about the future.

"It was a tough one," Kristin Scott, Williams' daughter, said as she started to leave with her 16-month-old son, David, asleep in her arms. "But we'll be back next year."

Suddenly, the Final Four isn't some fantasy at Maryland.

It's a reality, however harsh it seemed last night.

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