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Men's basketball's miracle over Maryland

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - It takes some players a full four years to become stars in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Jason Williams leapt right to legend in 14 seconds.

In a conference where myths are born with all the regularity of comets passing but stay around as long as stars, Williams, with both sweaty palms pounding the hardwoodfloor like a jackhammer on each defensive possession and with both hands whipping around the ball like a three-card-monte dealer on offense, did what even Williams did not think he could.

Eight points in 12 seconds-the rest already legend.

"I still don't believe it," he said. I will be in awe of this all night. Everything was in Maryland's favor... and the crowd started chanting 'overrated'... and we did it."

But like any good hero, Williams started a long way from redemption.

For a full 38 minutes, Steve Blake, the lanky Terrapin point guard and leading ACC assist man at 6.7 per game, outplayed Duke's human highlight reel, turning Williams' sleek offensive game into a bumbling mess.

And without Williams, the Duke offense faltered, often going possessions without shots, much less points.

"We were just trying to keep him in front of us, make him take tough shots," Blake said.

Defensively, life was not much better for likely All-American Williams. Blake and backcourt cohort Juan Dixon exposed the defensive gaps in Williams' game, going through and past the Plainfield, N.J. point guard like he was a turnstile.

Blake picked up seven assists in the first half alone as the Terps pulled out to a nine-point halftime advantage.

"I was easily having the worst game ever for me," Williams said. "I couldn't do anything and the turnovers-man the turnovers."

Midway through the second half Williams awkwardly fumbled the ball off his leg driving to the basket and immediately threw his hands to his head in disgust.

He should have let out a cry of relief-it was all about to change.

With 1:51 left, and with Drew Nicholas ready

come in to keep Blake from fouling out, a slashing Williams forced Blake into his fifth personal foul.

"[Steve Blake fouling out] was the key," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We had a sub sitting at the table, we wanted to swap offense for defense, we wanted to save him for the end."

Jason Williams sank both his free throws and somewhere in the middle of the chaotic Cole Field House crowd yelling for their Terps to hold on for the first home win over Duke in four years, that trademark Jason Williams smirk began to break across his face like a wave that seemed more 38 years than 38 minutes in the making.

And then it was really about to be all over.

"When I fouled out I thought it was going to be OK, I thought we had the game," Blake said. "But a team like Duke doesn't give up."

Still down by nine at 84-75, the Blue Devils went back to a full-court press, a defense they had using sparingly and with little success in the first half.

After trading free throws for baskets, the wheels did not just fall off for the Terps-they flew off.

Williams drove down the lane with Blake watching from the sideline, spinning through a pair of Maryland defenders and snaking the ball up and through to pull Duke within 90-82.

Three-point expertise aside, it was clear that Nicholas was not Blake.

And he was not stopping Williams.

The Blue Devil point guard then turned and chased down the inbound pass in the hands of Blake's replacement Nicholas, smothering him in a double team with Nate James. Improbably, Williams pulled the ball out of Nicholas' hands, turned and fired a three-pointer to pull Duke within five for the first time in over 26 minutes and drop the raucous Maryland crowd from fever pitch to silence before the ball ever left the net.

"Jason's shot to cut it to five was a monster shot," Krzyzewski said. "He shot it almost sitting in our bench."

Five points in six seconds with a livid Gary Williams providing the backbeat, stomping in anger on the Maryland sideline.

What the Terps' coach did not know then was that the bad news was not that his lead had just been cut to five, it was that Williams was not through. After backup point guard Nicholas missed both free throws on an Andre Buckner foul, the Blue Devils raced back down the court. Chris Duhon fed Williams for an open three and it was not just victory that came calling, it was something just short of destiny.

"As badly as Jason had been playing for him, he was magnificent in those last couple minutes," Krzyzewski said.

Yet the Blue Devils still had two points separating them from overtime.

But this time, even Williams could not do it.

A steal by James gave the Blue Devils possession of the ball without having to foul and immediately the team looked to Williams. But the visibly fatigued point guard stumbled on his way to the basket, narrowly avoiding a traveling call as he fell to the court.

One scare survived, there seemed little question that the Blue Devils were going to find some way to win, so when James was fouled following a Dunleavy missed three, it was more fitting than euphoric for the Blue Devils when the Baltimore native calmly sank both free throws.

"Playing against Duke you have to play 40 minutes," said Terp swingman Byron Mouton. "We played 38 and it got us in trouble."

Five minutes later when the Blue Devils finally left winners, it was Williams who smiled the brightest, grabbing the ball and throwing it high into the Cole ceiling. And it was Blake who slumped farthest back in his locker after the game, wearing a visible dejection so strong it might as well have been a scar across his face.

"It hurts a lot to play so well and then have the turning point of the game being fouling out," said a worn Blake, whose voice barely carried to the gaggle of media outside his locker. "This is definitely the worse loss I've ever had."

For the Blue Devils, who have not lost since a one-point defeat against No. 1 Stanford in December, it was simply a matter of getting the job done.

"We just made winning plays to win tonight," Krzyzewski said, succinctly capsulizing a game where his team was outplayed for most of the contest and still left winners.

But not everybody made winning plays for Duke.

Some were legendary.

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