Terps find hope in rubble of loss

Maryland players mystified by 2nd-half fizzle against Duke

It's `just hard to take'

With 8 returnees, expectations high for next season

April 02, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - The players, bleary-eyed and a little bitter about the way their ride ended, glanced back at a season they will never forget, and looked ahead to a new era.

Barely 12 hours had passed since the Maryland Terrapins' dreams of a national championship crash-landed at the Metrodome, where the Duke Blue Devils had started with such a sleepwalk, before awakening with a fury the Terps could not match.

In the wake of Saturday's 95-84 loss to Duke in the national semifinals, which put the Blue Devils in tonight's NCAA championship game against Arizona, the Terps tried to make sense of things.

They wondered how their offense, which had hummed so proficiently for most of the first half while forcing Duke into a 39-17 deficit, could crumble amid a pile of turnovers and bad shots. They wondered how Duke, out-worked and out-hustled for such an extended period, could then make Maryland look so slow. They wondered why so many whistles blew on called fouls against Maryland that the Terps still don't understand.

It was a lot to digest for sophomore forward Tahj Holden. He stood in the team's hotel lobby, waiting to begin the journey home with the rest of the team. Holden said he had not slept a wink, having spent much of the night alone while watching television and reflecting on the night when the best year of his basketball life ended.

"You get to this point, and you figure you might as well go and win a national championship. To not do that is just hard to take," Holden said.

"I thought we were a little out of character late in the game. We took a lot of quick shots. There was a little bit of rushing and panic on our part. We didn't [pass to] open guys all night, even when we had the big lead."

"I really liked the way we came out. That was our first time at this [Final Four] level, and I thought we were really ready to play," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who took the Terps (25-11) to their first Final Four in school history.

"We just couldn't sustain it, as [Duke] picked up their intensity. They got more physical. They overplayed passing lanes, and we weren't moving well. We were standing around on offense quite a bit in the second half. We were quicker early. Then Duke got quicker and made us look slow."

Numerous Maryland players had said before the game that Duke's championship pedigree - the Blue Devils had qualified for their ninth Final Four under coach Mike Krzyzewski - would be offset by the Terps' depth and confidence, stemming from a 10-1 streak that included a decisive victory a month earlier against the Blue Devils in Durham, N.C.

They were right, for a while. Duke looked tentative, while missing its first eight three-point shots and performing miserably on the boards. Duke needed 33 minutes and nine seconds to grab its first lead. But in the end, the Blue Devils played like a team that has lived at the Final Four.

Duke shot 53.1 percent in the second half, scoring 57 points. It forced 21 Maryland turnovers - scoring 23 points as a direct result - while committing only seven, including two in the second half. Led by Nate James, Duke smothered Terps guard Juan Dixon, who shot 1-for-8 in the second half after scoring 16 first-half points to stake Maryland to a 49-38 lead at the break.

The Blue Devils (34-4) got huge games from the usual suspects. Shane Battier led the way with 25 points and did much to keep Duke in the game early. Jason Williams didn't show up in the first half, but scored 19 of his 23 points after halftime and broke down Maryland's defense in crunch time. Carlos Boozer scored 19 points, making key baskets down the stretch.

"We never could make a run in the second half," said a sleep-deprived Byron Mouton, just before boarding the team bus. "We got beat late on the offensive glass and we couldn't stop Jason Williams from penetrating. I never expected us to lose, no matter who we were playing. I had a bad night thinking about this game."

Many observers think officials David Libbey, Mark Reischling and Ted Hillary were not particularly sharp. On a night when Maryland depended heavily on its frontcourt depth to wear down the Blue Devils, the Terps' big men were reduced to spectators, as a result of some calls that seemed strange.

Lonny Baxter, who ruled the West Regional by using his bulk to maximum advantage, made only two of 10 shots before fouling out with 2:48 left and Duke leading, 84-79. Baxter absorbed at least two touch fouls, including his last, while he was posting up Boozer.

"The ref said I held Boozer on the post-up. I thought I was posting up like I usually do. That's just something that happens at every Duke game," Baxter said.

Holden and senior forward Terence Morris also finished with four fouls, but were essentially taken out of the game earlier. Holden and Morris each had three at the half, partly because Gary Williams elected to leave each player on the floor after he had drawn his second late in the half.

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