Joy gone once Duke gets going

April 01, 2001|By JOHN EISENBERG

MINNEAPOLIS -- It started out as a dream for the Maryland Terrapins. It ended as a nightmare.

A 22-point lead over Duke evaporated into yet another galling loss to the Blue Devils last night at the Metrodome, this time with the whole basketball world watching.

And you thought getting to the Final Four for the first time was going to be fun for the Terps.

"This hurts," Maryland's Lonny Baxter said. "It hurts a lot right now."

In time, the frustration will subside and the pride of making Maryland basketball history will replace it. But that's for later. Last night, in the wake of a 95-84 loss, the Terps were staring at a hard diet of humility.

Duke got to laugh last.

Hard to admit, even harder to face. But oh, so true.

The Terps and Blue Devils played four games this season, and Duke won three, including the one that mattered most. The Terps can gripe all they want about the officiating and take solace in knowing they were the superior team for a majority of the four games, but in the end, that's irrelevant. Duke won. Duke was better. Duke is laughing last.

And no, not because of the officiating, even though last night Duke got away with some physical play, Baxter fouled out on a poor call, Maryland's Terence Morris was limited to 20 minutes because of foul trouble and the Blue Devils shot eight more free throws -- an edge that infuriated Maryland coach Gary Williams, for one.

"I can't comment on the officiating," Williams said brusquely after the game, after having railed at the refs throughout the second half.

But please, let's not blow past some of the realities of the game in the rush to patch together a conspiracy.

Duke won the final 27 minutes, 78-45. That's a 33-point edge, for those scoring at home. Duke did what had to be done, especially defensively. Baxter, who carried the Terps in the West Regional, was limited to two baskets and 10 points. Morris scored only 10, too. And Juan Dixon, who carried the Terps as they built a 22-point lead early last night, scored his last point with more than 10 minutes left as Duke's Nate James and Mike Dunleavy rotated on him and kept him from shooting, much less scoring.

"Credit to them," Gary Williams said. "With Juan, you need looks [at the basket]. We didn't get good looks for him in the second half. Duke had something to do with that. They took us out of some things."

Dixon said: "They limited my touches, but I missed some shots, too. I had opportunities and didn't score. Things like that happen."

The game was still tied with five minutes left, but Maryland had nowhere to go on offense and Duke's Jason Williams and Shane Battier were taking over. Sometimes, you just have to face the facts. Williams and Battier were the best players on the floor last night. They're why Duke, not Maryland, is going to play for the national title.

Yes, the Terps were spectacular in the early stages, devastating the Blue Devils with hot shooting and a withering transition game. Steve Blake's three-pointer with 6:51 to go in the first half gave the Terps a 39-17 lead. But there was an unsettling quality to the surge that made it hard to trust. For starters, Maryland was doing it without getting into a rhythm in its set offense and pounding the ball inside to Baxter, as they did against Stanford. As well, there was little doubt Duke would make a comeback run.

"We played great to get up 22," Gary Williams said. "But nobody's 22 better than Duke. I knew they'd make a run."

Who didn't? The only question was whether Duke's run would be sufficient to overcome such a deficit.

That was no problem in the end. And there, perhaps, is your most important difference-maker of all.

When the Terps overcame a 16-point Duke lead in the second half of their Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinal a couple of weeks ago, Duke still won. Duke did what it do to hold onto the lead. Last night, when the roles were reversed and Maryland was trying to hang on, Duke had the wherewithal to complete the rally. Call it pedigree, confidence, class, whatever. Duke had it.

Gary Williams gave Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski a pat on the back after their brief handshake, unable to linger and exchange the warm fuzzies Final Four coaches often exchange. The pain of the loss will linger.

But Williams and his players will soon be able to step back and embrace what they accomplished this season, taking the Terps to the Final Four for the first time. It was a great ride. A great accomplishment. No one will be able to take it away from them.

"I think we proved some things to our school and our state this season," Gary Williams said. "It hurts right now, but when we get away from this, we'll feel proud."

As well they should. This was the Final Four, where the Terps had never gone before. And the Terps were so close to running right through Duke and into the championship game.

"I'm not ashamed," Dixon said. "We played hard, and we played well. We just had too many turnovers and didn't get too enough loose balls."

Too much of this, too much of that. Too much Battier, too much Williams. Too much defense, too much resilience.

Too much Duke.

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