Combatants in the Maryland-Duke rivalry hate to see it end

Players and coaches reflect on the days when the Terps and Blue Devils were the greatest show in college basketball

February 13, 2014|By Jeff Barker | The Baltimore Sun

Forget for a moment about where Maryland-Duke might rank in the pantheon of college basketball rivalries and think back instead to Duke fans chanting "Sweat, Gary, sweat" at former Maryland coach Gary Williams. His face is glistening and his silver hair is matted as he stalks the sideline under the hot lights at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Think about Maryland fans howling a four-letter profanity at the Blue Devils, or Juan Dixon tarnishing Duke hero Shane Battier's senior night with 28 points, or Jay Williams' icy stare in the huddle before leading Duke back from 10 points down in the "Miracle Minute" game that still nags at the Terps who played in it.

"Not our rivals," the Cameron Crazies condescended in recent years, trying perhaps too hard to poke the Terps where it hurt most. For significant portions of the 176-game series — which ends as we know it Saturday when the Terps (14-11, 6-6 ACC) visit Duke (19-5, 8-3) for the last time in an Atlantic Coast Conference game — Maryland seemed to be self-consciously scrapping for respect.

But, in its prime, Maryland-Duke was a series that emanated heat. While Duke fans professed indifference, the rivalry didn't fade away quietly at Maryland, not even after the school announced it would join the financially lucrative Big Ten beginning this July. In College Park, the rivalry always seemed personal.

"It always got me fired up," said former Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez, a noted Duke antagonist who was once asked by a game officials to stop gesturing to the mocking Blue Devils fans. "It was unbelievable."

'Those were battles'

The series, in which Duke holds a 113-63 advantage, was gripping enough that a number of key participants say they can't imagine letting it go when the Terps move to the Big Ten.

"It's so funny, people talk about Duke-North Carolina being one of the top rivalries in college basketball," said Jay Williams, the former Blue Devils guard and current ESPN analyst. "It was very difficult for me to relate to that, because it was Duke-Maryland [when I was there]. Those were battles, man. There were times when I would get myself so pumped up to play against [Terps point guard] Steve Blake that mentally I crippled myself before the game even started because I wanted to make sure I would dominate him."

Williams pushed his team to victory in the 2001 "Miracle Minute" game in the next-to-last season at Cole Field House after becoming angered by Terps fans chanting "overrated" at the Blue Devils. Maryland struck back to beat Duke on senior night in Durham, N.C., later that season, and the Blue Devils countered by edging the Terps by two in the ACC semifinals. Then, Duke erased a 22-point deficit and beat the Terps in the national semifinals.

The "Miracle Minute" and the Final Four defeats were the first games cited by Dixon, now a Terps special assistant, when asked recently about the series.

Now with the Los Angeles Lakers, Blake said he will never be free of the memory of the 22-point lead slipping away — even after the Terps won the national championship the following year. Terps fan may remember Lonny Baxter fouling out, or Blake and Duke's Chris Duhon colliding violently and lying on the floor, pain etched on their faces. Blake recalls virtually every detail of the Final Four loss.

"That [game] was something I didn't forget for a long time," Blake told The Sun years later. "You didn't even have another game to help you get over it."

Terps fans may be interested to know the extent to which the rivalry has imprinted on some of the Duke stars.

"I look over at Mark Turgeon — and I understand that he is now the Maryland coach — but for a moment I see Gary Williams," said Jay Williams. "I see Gary sweating and I see Gary cursing out guys and refs. I think about Chris Wilcox dunking the basketball or Lonnie Baxter battling Carlos Boozer down low. I think about [former coach] Lefty Driesell. I think about Steve Francis. That [rivalry] is 100 percent going to be sad to lose. It's going to take an adjustment to consciously talk about Maryland being in the Big Ten, because that's ACC basketball for me."

Former Terps star Tom McMillen agrees.

"It's really one of those regrettable moments in sports where you have to walk away from age-old rivalry because of money," said McMillen, a Maryland Board of Regents member and recent inductee to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

'You could feel it'

The rivalry was never higher-profile than from 2000-02, when the Terps were at their best. But there were plenty of memorable moments before that — Len Bias throwing down vicious dunks as Driesell beat Duke, his alma mater, to win his first ACC tournament championship in 1984; Terps players swarming Joe Smith after his tip-in won a 1995 game played with Gary Williams in a hospital with pneumonia.

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