Bedeviled no longer, Terps beat No. 1 Duke

87-73 victory closes chapter on collapses, starts talk of top rank

February 18, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- A rather large ghost was exorcised yesterday afternoon at Cole Field House, put to rest with Maryland's dominating 87-73 men's college basketball victory over top-ranked Duke.

Though Maryland might still be reminded of what happened last year against the Blue Devils -- losing a 10-point lead in the final minute at home and a 22-point lead in the NCAA tournament semifinals -- the third-ranked Terrapins made sure this game wasn't going to have the same kind of ending.

Building a 25-point lead in the second half, Maryland won its most significant game of the season and one of the biggest in the 13-year tenure of coach Gary Williams.

The victory marked the seventh time in school history that the Terrapins have beaten the nation's No. 1 team and could put them in position to be ranked No. 1 nationally for the first time.

The Associated Press Top 25 poll of writers and broadcasters will be released today, and Maryland should get more than its share of first-place votes after easily handling the Blue Devils, sending Duke to its worst loss in nearly four years. Kansas is currently ranked No. 2. The USA Today/ESPN poll of coaches released last night had Kansas in the top spot with Maryland ranked No. 2.

"It's great, but you play for the season, not one game," said Williams, who was mobbed along with his players by a swarm of Maryland students and other red-clad fans who rushed the court when the final buzzer sounded.

"We proved today that we can beat Duke," he said, "but other than that, we haven't won anything by what happened today."

If anything, the victory helped Maryland regain some of the psychological edge it lost with its inability to put away Duke over the past year. It was the first win over Duke at home in five years, and happened a month to the day after the Blue Devils beat the Terrapins by 21 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.

Maryland was in control from start to finish, led by sophomore forward Chris Wilcox, who dominated the Blue Devils inside with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and guard Steve Blake, who shut down All-American Jason Williams defensively while contributing 13 assists.

Played out before a roaring sellout crowd of 14,500 that included former Maryland stars such as Walt Williams, Keith Gatlin and Steve Francis (whose jersey number was hung from the rafters in a pregame ceremony), the game lived up to all the hype leading into it -- particularly for the Terrapins and their fans.

Last year, hundreds of University of Maryland students expressed their disappointment with losing in the Final Four to Duke University by setting bonfires in town and on campus. But hours after yesterday's victory, most students stayed indoors.

"It's cold, windy and all that kind of stuff. The students did their celebrating and went back in," said Capt. John Brandt of the university police last night.

Gatlin, who as a junior on the 1985-86 team helped give No. 1 North Carolina its first loss in the then-brand-new Dean E. Smith Center, said he had flashbacks as he watched from courtside.

"I think this is definitely bigger," said Gatlin, an assistant high school coach in Greensboro, N.C., "because it will get Maryland over the hump."

Said Walt Williams, who as a senior witnessed a similar scene after leading Maryland to an upset over 10th-ranked North Carolina during the 1991-92 season, said: "It's much bigger, because the stakes are much higher. This is one of the biggest wins this school has ever had."

It will also provide a lasting memory of Cole Field House, which will house its last men's game March 3, when the Terrapins play Virginia. Though his team lost for the first time in more than a month, Duke's coach Mike Krzyzewski could appreciate playing in the building for the last time.

"It's a great basketball environment all around," said Krzyzewski.

"Some of the best games that have been played in here are games that nobody saw, in the summer when the pros and college kids got together and used the courts," he said. "This is a building that has a soul. It has a soul because a lot of life was pumped into it, not just on game day."

But there is now something missing from the place, and the Terrapins couldn't be happier.

They have exorcised a rather large ghost.

Sun staff writer Johnathon Briggs contributed to this article.

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