MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Unlike the first meeting between Duke and Maryland, there was no surprise comeback Saturday-only a comeback.
For the first 13 minutes of the day's second national semifinal game, the West Regional champion Terrapins competed with the furor and excitement of a team playing in its first-ever Final Four. The rest of the evening, the Terps (25-11) still looked like they had never been to the Final Four, but only because of their anxious stagnation and stilted offense.
After mounting a 22-point advantage during an incredible opening stretch against conference rival Duke (34-4), Maryland tightened noticeably and let the Blue Devils rally for a 95-84 victory Saturday night in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Maryland's collapse marked the largest halftime lead (11) ever relinquished in an NCAA tournament semifinal game.
Although Duke's tremendous turnaround shattered the morale of a once-brash Maryland squad, it did not amaze any of the East Regional champions, who said that even down 22 they believed they would claw their way back. Duke's come-from-behind win was the team's third this season-all by double-digits-against the Terps.
"We are Duke and as long as we keep playing, we know we can come back," fifth-year senior Nate James said. "We were just thinking about settling down. I think we just lost our composure. Once we regrouped, we got ourselves back together."
Duke trailed the entire game until Jason Williams canned a three-pointer with just under seven minutes remaining to put his team up 73-72. Williams' three came one possession subsequent to the return of Maryland star Terence Morris, who sat out the half's first 13 minutes with four fouls. The bomb from near the top of the key was the only one of nine three-point attempts made by Duke's All-America
One play after the final official timeout, the game turned dramatically in Duke's favor. With the Blue Devils ahead by three, point guard Chris Duhon lunged for a steal near halfcourt and came down flat on his back after a brutal collision with Maryland's Steve Blake.
While Duhon was dizzied and laying on the floor for several minutes, player of the year Shane Battier rallied his teammates together and delivered a passionate, floor-slapping address that contained one simple message.
"That's just our little way of saying, 'The time is now,'" said Battier, who led all scorers with 25 points in addition to eight rebounds and four blocked shots. "We thought if we could get a defensive stop, we could crack the game open."
The defensive stops came in succession for Duke, as the Terps turned the ball over on each of their next two possessions, the latter coming on a charge that fouled out center Lonny Baxter with less than three minutes remaining. Maryland's sullen 260-pound big man departed with his team still down by only five points, but with him left the Terps' scoring attack.
While the Blue Devils' motion offense went haywire with points on all of the team's remaining possessions, Maryland tallied only one more field goal until the game was all but wrapped up with 25 seconds left.
"They did a great job of coming out and denying the passing lanes, which disrupted our offense," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who has only defeated Duke four times in his 12-year career at Maryland. "We had a chance to put the ball in the basket a couple times and we didn't do it. When it gets close like that, you have to take advantage of opportunities, and we didn't do that."
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Dixon scored 16 points in the first half-compared to only three in the second-while stretching Duke's defense across the perimeter with four three-pointers. Backcourt mate Blake also buried a pair of first-half three-pointers, the second of which put Maryland ahead 39-17 with 6:55 left in the half. With his team in a tailspin and its motion offense going nowhere, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reminded his team to relax and stop trying to inhibit the freedom of movement that had carried the Blue Devils all season long.
"I said, 'You're losing by so much, you can't play any worse, so what are you worried about-that we're going to lose by 40? We're already losing by 20, so will you just play?'" Krzyzewski said.
Slowly but surely, the Blue Devils responded to their coach's words, especially on the defensive end. After scoring 39 points in only 13 minutes, it took Maryland twice as long to put up the same total.
Krzyzewski singled out the play of James, who grabbed six offensive rebounds but also exhibited stifling effort on Dixon in the second half. Along with Jason Williams' dominant 19-point performance in the second half, James' defensive effort helped propel Krzyzewski into his ninth national championship game in 21 years at Duke.
"We weren't able to score.... We didn't score consistently in the second half like we had the first half, and I thought that hurt us as much as anything," Maryland's Williams said.
Note: When he collided with Blake, Duhon sustained a mild concussion, his second in the last month. Krzyzewski said yesterday the freshman had responded well to initial tests and is expected to play tonight in the championship game.