MINNEAPOLIS - Duke dispatched Maryland last night in part because the Terps' top guns were silenced in the second half.
The Blue Devils are in tomorrow night's national championship game because of the reversals done by the scoring leaders of each team. As Duke's Shane Battier and Jason Williams heated up, Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter cooled down, and Maryland was doomed to a 95-84 defeat.
Baxter and Dixon were a combined 1-for-12 from the field in the second half. Baxter, the MVP of the West Regional, missed his four shots, as all three of his points after the break came at the free-throw line. Dixon, the two-time ACC all-star, was 1-for-8 from the field in the final 20 minutes, when his lone contribution was a three-pointer from deep in the left corner that extended his team's lead to 69-62 with 10:40 left.
Maryland was outscored 33-15 the rest of the way, with Baxter and Dixon being limited to a single free throw.
"I don't know what happened," Dixon said. "I wish I had the answer. Everything was going our way early, and I can't say exactly the reason why things turned around. They tried to put a big defender on me, and limited my touches. I still missed a lot of shots. I had opportunities to put the ball in the basket, and I didn't. I have to get better at creating my own shot."
Nate James, the fifth-year senior from St. John's Prospect Hall in Frederick who lost his starting job last month, was on the floor for 16 minutes in the second half, and slowed Dixon considerably. Dixon, a fourth-year junior out of northeast Baltimore and Calvert Hall got hugs from Shane Battier and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game, but James got up close and personal well before that.
"The biggest spark we had the whole game was Nate," Krzyzewski said. "He fought Dixon in the second half. Not that you can stop him [Dixon], but it was harder for him. I thought Dixon not only mentally dominated us, but dominated the first half."
Duke trimmed Maryland's 22-point lead to eight heading into the final minute of the first half, before Dixon swiped a loose ball, dribbled down the final 30 seconds and drained a 28-footer from the right wing over James. That gave him 16 points, but the player who was known as "The Kid" when he arrived at College Park had just that one three the rest of the way, and finished with 19.
Baxter was limited to seven points, his lowest total in the last 13 games with the exception of his no-show in the first round of the NCAA tournament against George Mason. He was allowed none of the physical leeway that allowed him to brutalize the Collins twins of Stanford in the West final, was blocked several times by Battier and finished 2-for-10 from the field, which matched his worst shooting percentage of the season.
"I think Carlos [Boozer] and Shane [Battier] did an excellent job on defense," Krzyzewski said. "I think he [Baxter] had a tough shooting day, but I think it had a lot to do with the way Casey [Sanders] and Carlos fought him continually. There really was no science. We were just trying to make him score over us."
Sanders started out on Baxter, but gave way to Boozer.
"I was doubled sometimes," Baxter said. "There were just so many people at me. I just had a tough time posting up inside, getting my shot up."
Baxter was trying to establish position on the left block with 2:48 left and the game slipping away from Maryland when he and Boozer made contact. Both had four fouls, and Baxter was gone when official David Libbey whistled him for his fifth. Maryland was appalled, but it wasn't the most questionable call against the Terps.
Terence Morris was called for three fouls in less than 2:30 over the end of the first half and the start of the second. The first in that spree, and his second of the game, occurred when Williams lost his dribble and ran into the 6-foot-9 senior from Frederick, who had been doing a strong job of defending Battier, the National Player of the Year.